The company’s founder Malcolm Grey, left that famous company House of Hardy to set up Greys: interestingly, his company has recently rejoined the Hardy’s fold, and it is presumably this merger that has allowed Greys to branch out into reel production.
To their credit, they’ve taken the brave step of introducing an original design of centrepin onto the market – this review is I believe, an exclusive first look at their "Bewick" reel.
Visually, the reel is a gem: supplied in a black velour bag, it is machined out of aerospace grade aluminium, anodised in a combination of champagne gold for the backplate, and silver for the spool, in a satin anti-glare finish (the picture really doesn’t do it justice).
The reel is a six spoke design, but the spokes are in fact the aluminium left after the machining process, and there are 12 weight saving holes machined into the edge of the spool. The reel has a fairly wide solid arbour (line bed) rather than the more traditional pins, removing any risk of the line becoming creased by the angles formed by the pins.
It is a very lightweight reel. In comparison with my Browning Rotator (at 4 inches in diameter, it’s much the same size as the Bewick), it’s practically half the weight! That’s right: while the Browning weighs an entirely reasonable 8oz, the Bewick comes in at just 4 1/2 oz – loaded with 100m of 4lb line! To further emphasise the tiny weight of the Greys reel – my Relum pin weighs nearly 12 oz – almost three times the weight!
It comes as a further surprise to find out that this is a "proper" centrepin – that is, it spins on a polished stainless steel spindle with a phosphor bronze end bearing (these are also known as "plain bearing" reels), rather than relying on a separate ball race as is often the case with modern "pins". It has a very well placed and very easy to use ratchet, and two "faux ivory" handles which are removable.
There is no line guard or provision for one, but as I would have taken the thing off anyway, it’s no loss to me! The edge of the spool is not milled, but is still fine for batting, and the spool is easily removed by flicking the quick- release button.
Although very lightweight, it is built to last: Greys give the original owner of the reel a lifetime guarantee against defects. All of the tolerances seem to be spot on: close enough for example to prevent any risk of the line getting behind the spool, but not so tight that the reel is difficult to use. In fact the craftsmanship is as good as on any reel I’ve seen – it’s as much like a piece of jewellery as it is fishing tackle.
So far, so good: it looks great, and is very well made. How does it actually work?
Although not a ball bearing reel, it spins like a dream – it is much better than I would have expected it to be given the constraints of this design (it hasn’t had years of running in, remember). In an entirely unscientific and probably meaningless test I’ve timed a good spin of the reel to last 25 seconds.
This, and the negligible weight of the reel, mean that it takes no effort at all to set the spool moving when trotting – it is a cracking little reel for the rivers.
Of course, it won’t have escaped the attention of centrepin fans that Wallis casting is becoming a more and more popular technique: well, I’m told that this reel has been designed with the input of one Chris Yates to be a superlative Wallis casting tool.
I don’t deny that I had misgivings about the Bewick for Wallis casting: as you might be able to tell from the picture, the line bed is set quite a way into the reel: although the reel has a 4 inch diameter, the actual diameter of the reel bed is marginally less than three inches – the Browning I’m using as a comparison for this review has a measurement of 3.25 inches.
Doesn’t sound like a much of difference – but it means that for any given distance of line paid out on a Wallis cast, the Bewick is going to have to spin more and faster. Theoretically at least, this might be a bad thing, because overspinning and consequent overrunning is a real problem with the Wallis cast. As the Bewick is very free running anyway, this could actually count against it.
However, as I am not the best Wallis caster around, I sought the opinions of two angling friends (Messrs Tomkins and Roe) who could Wallis cast with a bobbin of thread tied to a pencil, and whose opinions I respect a great deal: they both agree that a small diameter might – in some circumstances – be a hindrance to really good Wallis casting.
Well, theory is all well and good, but things are not usually black and white and there’s nothing like "the proof of the pudding", so I’ve just spent an hour in the garden comparing the Bewick with the Browning and with my Shakespeare Aeriel, a bigger ballrace reel, which casts very nicely. The results are illuminating – and proof that figures aren’t everything!
Probably because there is so little weight to the Bewick, I was able to consistently outcast both of the other reels, to the extent that I regularly stuck the two-swan waggler I was casting, into the Laburnum at the bottom of the garden – which is over 20 yards away – on what felt like average casts: I had to get things just right to do the same with either of the other reels. I was, to be blunt, gobsmacked (and pleased: I’m from Northumberland too, and really wanted to like this reel!) and as I suggest, a good Wallis caster would probably make even more of the reel.
So is there anything about the reel I didn’t like? Well – subjectively – I still feel that Greys should have made this a bigger reel (and maybe designed the line bed to be closer to the edge of the spool). My instinct is that it would be better this way: even if the casting wasn’t drastically improved, line retrieval after a long trot down would be.
Also, this is a reel which will cost you around £200, and for that kind of money I feel (and I admit this is really subjective!) that it would have more "presence" and perceived value if there was more of it – I doubt it’s a coincidence that most popular centrepins on the market today – the competition – are bigger than the Bewick. It might be a "Bloke Thing", but that extra half an inch really seems to matter(!)
Less subjectively: the ratchet is unusual in that it relies on a sliding plate to move the pawl into position, which clicks over a small rivet on the inner face of the backplate. While it works very well, I have a suspicion that sooner or later the mechanism is going to loosen up a bit too much and may stop working properly. The lifetime guarantee should see to that of course (providing you’re the original owner), but it is something to consider.
Similarly, there seems to be no way of adjusting the reel to cope with wear on the spindle end-bearing: on other plain bearing reels a small grub screw on the front of the spool is used to adjust the reel: this option is absent from the Bewick. Again, this might not be an issue in reality – I’d have to have the reel for a long time to see if it was really a problem, and it presumably the guarantee would address this too.
The quick release button on the spool is absolutely tiny! Using it with cold fingers in thick gloves, I found it rather fiddly. You probably won’t be using it often in such circumstances naturally, but if you do, you might have to take the gloves off!
The only other thing I would comment on is that although handles are removable (like a lot of pin users, I can’t get away with handles on my reels – they have to go), the results of removing them are not great from a cosmetic point of view. You might be able to see from the picture that each handle sits in a little "dish": on removing the handles these came off the reel too, but because they appear (at a guess) to have been superglued into position originally, when they came off, they revealed a black tarnish mark which seemed pretty permanent (although I didn’t try too hard to remove the mark – this reel has to go back to Greys!)
Of course, you could simply glue the dishes back into position after taking off the handles, but I would prefer them not to be there and to have an unblemished reel.
On balance then, this is a creditable (and brave) effort from Greys, backed by the obvious reel making skills of the House Of Hardy. My "criticisms" are in the main cosmetic and/or subjective (although with any piece of kit retailing at around £200 I reserve the right to be finicky!)
You would be hard pushed to find a better made reel, and it’ll do the jobs you’d want it to do effectively and without fuss.
Would I buy one? Well, as Greys aren’t going to let me keep this one, I might have no choice..!
PS: Since writing this review I've done a bit more research (in the interests of fairness) and I found out that physically, the Bewick is almost identical in dimensions to the Youngs Purist II model 2031. This too is a 4 inch reel with a one inch wide line bed and (surprise surprise, given my concerns about this point), a depth from line bed to edge of spool of 12.5 mm. All just like the Bewick. This is a VERY popular reel, so there's clearly method in Grey's madness after all.
Greys of Alnwick
Tel: 01665 510020
Fax: 01665 604530