© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2002
Trolling offshore a few weeks ago, the conversation turned to fishing reels.
Like many other anglers, I started with a simple push-button reel, the Zebco 202. It worked fine for the sunnies in Oak Tree Pond, but it didn't take long before I realized it was no match for the bass of Mallard Lake.
Then one day, wandering through a local hardware store, I saw a fishing reel in a glass case that would change my life and those of so many other youngsters.
The Mitchell 300 was a "big boy's" reel, my father told me, and not a toy to be played with and broken. I talked about thereel with my buddies and the Mitchell 300 soon became an object of our collective desire.
"When you got a Mitchell 300, you knew you made it," said a colleague who overheard me talking about the reel with a friend.
So I started asking around and found I wasn't the only one who spent years longing for this simple fishing reel.
The Mitchell 300, I soon discovered, was as much an American institution as the Louisville Slugger.
Too bad it was built by a Frenchman.
Yes, we owe the Mitchell, and all other spinning reels for that matter, to a young French watchmaker named Maurice Jacquemin.
Jacquemin and his brother Mitchel were avid anglers in the Avre valley of France in the years after World War II. Mitchel asked his brother, an engineer, to design a reel that would holdand retrieve line without tangling, and cast a lure great distances with precision.
Jacquemin started working on the project in 1946, and two years later after much trial and error, he unveiled his new "spinning" reel. The device caught on quickly and changed fishing forever. More than 30-million Mitchell 300s have been sold around the world.
Other companies copied Jacquemin's revolutionary design and today, nearly two-thirds of all fishing reels sold in America are spinning reels.
In 2000, Mitchell was purchased by the Pure Fishing company, which owns Berkley, Abu Garcia and Fenwick. Last year Mitchell unveiled a new version of the hardware store classic: the Mitchell 300X.
The 6.0:1 high-speed gear ratio retrieves well and an antireverse mechanism helps with the hook set. Add an adjustable drag on the front of the spool and handle that can be switched from left to right, and you have everything a youngster could want.
But fishing reels are not just sold in hardware stores anymore. Walk into any bait shop or sporting goods store and you will find dozens of types of spinning reels.
And just like the wooden Slugger saw sales slump with the introduction of aluminum bats, the Mitchell felt the pain of competition.
Yet the Mitchell 300 has earned a spot in history and it always will have a place in anglers' hearts.