For me, fishing is an adventure. I’ve fished countless days – and nights – far beyond the horizon, where the only sights besides water and sky were another vessel on occasions or a oil production platform, and there are certainly adventures way out ‘yonder! Trolling along the 100 fathom curve, watching a set of “marlin plugs” pop and gurgle while waiting for “the man in the blue suit”, as Uncle Vic calls marlin, is a definite turn-on, as is being on the “wire” when that big boy comes to the boat. Many hours have likewise been spent ladling chum overboard and watching a bucket-sized reel in hopes of seeing the spool begin to spin backwards with the first run of a monster class shark. There can be adventure simply in clearing the jetties in uncertain weather, never knowing if the ride home will be a sweet victory cruise or a run for your life.
The most adventure and pure, unadulterated fun I’ve ever had fishing, though, has come in the surf. Without chunking rocks at anybody else’s chosen form of recreation, I used to tell people I always though of surf fishing as “waiting”, not wading, for your fish. My favorite style of surf fishing is to go one-on-one with the Gulf and the fish, wading out just to put a bend in a long rod and fling a heavy bait as far in the general direction of Cuba as my skill and tackle will allow, then retreating to the beach to wait in ambush for a bull red, bruising jack crevalle, hefty shark, glorious tarpon, or any one of the unusual catches a dedicated surf fishermen will make in a life spent beside the sea, to take my offering and enter into a mano-a-mano battle in which I will undoubtedly win, even if I should lose.
My weapon of choice in the rod department for such engagements was a 14 foot “honey” Fenwick stick, configured as a one piece with through-butt reel mounting system and Hypalon grips. For reels, I began with the classic Penn Squidder, later switched to a larger capacity Jigmaster or maybe a 3/0 to 4/0 Senator. Occasionally I would mount a Long Beach 68 for even more line capacity. Having enough line is usually the deciding factor on a big fish in the surf, as there is little to cut your line other than a sharp fin or occasional shell, and nowhere for the fish to run except OUT. The day I discovered the Alvey line of side cast reels, I had a wish for a time machine so I could go back and use these reels from the very start.
Alvey reels come to us from Australia, where they were used in big surf on big fish – and to set most of the world’s distance casting records back in the days when actual fishing equipment was used in such contests. The Alvey is a side cast reel, it hangs beneath the rod, looking for all the world like a giant fly reel, and mounting low on the rod as well. To cast one, a lever is released which allows the reel spool to be swiveled sideways, with the spool facing the tip of the rod. When released, the line comes off the spool as it does from an open faced spinning reel – in big loops. There is very little resistance, so lighter weights can be cast than with conventional reels. When the cast is completed, line ceases to be pulled off the stationary spool – no over-runs – and the reel is rotated back and locked in place so the retrieve is right-handed. There are no gears in an Alvey – it is a direct drive system with a strong star drag and virtually no moving parts. The retrieve ratio of the line is controlled by the spool size, and the larger Alveys pick up a lot of line with every spool revolution. Casts are almost effortless, and amazing distances can be achieved if the angler does not forget and wade too deep, which results in the reel being underwater at the completion of a cast.
Surf and beach conditions can be tough on a reel, but the Alvey has a fiberglass spool, stainless steel shaft, and brass washers and nuts. It comes apart very easily for washing – and sand can be washed out in salt water without damaging the reel (as long as it is eventually rinsed in fresh water). The direct drive and strong drag will put as much pressure on a fish as the angler can administer. Wooden versions of these reels with no drag at all were used to catch untold numbers of giant white sharks off the pier at Durban, South Africa. Those fishermen sat down and used a leather palm brake to apply pressure to the spool!
Smaller versions of Alvey reels can be a lot of fun for bay fishing, and they make models that do not swivel for bottom fishing. I caught a lot of big red snapper on these before deciding I preferred a model that swiveled even for bottom fishing, so I had he option to sight cast to a king mackerel or ling without changing rods. I even have a giant Alvey “Snapper Reel” designed for serious commercial bottom fishing that resembles the “Bandit Rigs” used by many commercial snapper fishermen. I became so enamored of these reels that I was a sales rep for them for a short period. I still love Penn Reels, but I never met Otto Heinz or any of his descendants. I did however meet Jack Alvey at a tackle show in Dallas, Texas one year. I always regretted I wasn’t able to take him up on his invitation to “Come down under and fish with the lads some time!”
The Alvey reel is a serious surf fishing tool, despite its unconventional looks, and for the man who seeks his adventure chasing large prey in pounding breakers, it can add to the “fun” factor quite a bit. And for those who might be interested, Alvey also makes a very practical fly reel!