Monday, March 11, 2013

An Inside Look at the Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier Baitcast Reel

Last year I started looking into upgrading a large majority of my fishing gear.  Most of it was old hand me downs from my Dad or cheap stuff that I had bought as a teenager.  One of the first purchases I made was a Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier.  It was definitely not an impulse purchase devoid of any research.  On it's surface, it looked like an excellent buy with literally all of the features I was looking for, with plenty of reviews to prove its worthiness.  I looked through hundreds of reviews and comparisons, and made what was in my mind, a fairly educated decision to purchase one with confidence.  There were a few nagging thoughts in my mind, mostly from some of the negative reviews.  At the time though, they didn't bother me enough to keep me from purchasing one, especially at the $80-100 pricepoint it's usually offered.  Over the months since though, I've been apprehensive about the durability of these little reels.  Would they stand up to years of use, hundreds of fish, and how hard would they be to obtain service or parts?  What I've found lately along with what I've discovered on my own is that I really don't think I have anything to worry about, although I still wasn't able to find pictures of the guts and components that make this reel operate as it should.  As a result, below is a compilation of my findings through research and a brief "field strip" of my own Pro Qualifier.

To begin with, my primary concern was with service and parts.  Would they be easy to get serviced if I couldn't do it on my own, and would parts be accessible and reasonably priced?  After making a few calls to the Sevierville, TN Bass Pro Shop as well as reading through this VERY detailed 5 year review of the Pro Qualifier, the answer is YES.  Parts are very readily available, and while you may have to buy a whole sideplate assembly to replace one bearing or piece of the braking system, that assembly is VERY cheap (<$20).  That's just a small example, your experience can and will vary depending on what part(s) you need.  BPS has you covered either way, and given the pure amount of Pro Qualifiers sold and the size of its parent company, the parts will be around for a long time.

It should be noted that I am by no means tooting on Bass Pro's horn.  I have no affiliation with them, and I was a bit skeptical about the 675 reviews that have been posted on the Pro Qualifier.  What has actually been kind of bugging me is that many of the reviews are several years old.  The Pro Qualifier has surely been updated at least a little bit over the years.  I'm hoping someone who reads this will be able to confirm if and when the PQ has last been updated, just to make sure the last update coincides with the oldest review and that the reviews haven't been simply combined over several iterations of the PQ.  You won't see this on some of the other reels posted on their site, which might have something to do with manufacturers changing the model numbers on new iterations of their products.  Either way, it's my opinion that the reviews seem to be relatively fair across the board for the Pro Qualifier, albeit a bit excessive.  Also, the PQ is a VERY popular reel in the BPS stores and online, so the reviews may pretty much evenly coincide with the pure volume of sales.

Back to the durability of the Pro Qualifier, there are a few people out there that have knocked it's durability, but there are also more than a few people out there that handle their gear like a gorilla.  That leads me to leave those opinions out of my overall decision on deciding whether the PQ is worth my money and time.  There are also a few people out there that absolutely love their PQ's, they own a dozen of them and they all work perfectly.  I would think that even with the best reels out there, it's expected to have at least one or two issues from time to time.  That's just called being realistic.  Even the best products fail, so I will never think of anything as perfect and infallible.  As a result, I throw out the reviews that I think tend to embellish a bit too much.  What does this all come down to?  A fine middle ground that tells me pretty much what I would expect, a reel that comes as close to perfect at the $80-100 pricepoint as I'm going to get.

This leads me to the final part of my in depth look at the Pro Qualifier, what exactly is inside these little guys?  Many people complain about a reel having plastic gears and question their durability.  I will go ahead and confirm everyone's suspicions about plastic gears, they are NOT durable....but they aren't meant to be, especially in this particular application.  As you will notice in the pictures below, the PQ does have plastic gears, but they are there to drive the worm gear that moves the line leveler back and forth.  The main drive gears are brass and I expect them to last many years.  It's my belief that BPS went with plastic gears in order to protect the line leveler system from excessive damage in the event the reel is dropped and the line lever takes a direct hit.  It has happened to me in the past with a different reel, and it has ruined the worm gear and line leveler assembly to the point that I just had to scrap an entire reel.  It's my hope (and I would suspect BPS's) that since there are plastic gears driving the line level system, those will strip or fail before any major damage is done to the actual worm gear or other part of the line leveling system.  It's a lot cheaper and easier to replace a couple plastic gears versus scrapping an entire reel because of a borked line leveler or similar.  As mentioned above, it's very easy to get those gears serviced or replaced in the event they are needed.

Beyond the scope of durability and the other stuff I've already discussed, the Pro Qualifier seems to be made very well and is packed with premium features.  From the one piece aluminum frame and aluminum drag star to the super handy dual braking system, the PQ is a very well rounded reel for the money.  As mentioned earlier as well, I put it in the $80-100 pricepoint.  While the $20 range looks odd at first, the reason it's there is because the PQ often goes on sale for $80, although it's normally priced at $100.  Bottom line, it's an excellent deal for $100....for $80, it's even better!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bluegrass Yakmasters

This is going to be an extremely exciting year for kayak fishing in Kentucky, and it will largely be due to the formation of a new club that goes by the name of Bluegrass Yakmasters. I began hearing rumors of these guys back in the fall. My Dad messaged me one day and told me to look them up on Facebook, a bunch of guys he works with had been talking about them. I looked them up and did the usual "Like", but didn't see much activity until closer to the end of the year. They had apparently just went official and were in the process of pulling together sponsors and a 2013 tournament schedule, and they definitely did not disappoint.

One of the major sponsors is HOOK1. HOOK1 has quickly become one of the leaders of the kayak fishing movement, providing all of the most highly sought after and sport specific products that kayak fishermen are looking for. What impresses me most about HOOK1 is their customer service and overall presence in the sport of kayak fishing. I've dealt with them several times when ordering accessories for my boat, and will be placing an order here soon for a new boat for my wife. I directed several of my buddies to HOOK1 for their needs, and one of them was especially impressed just lately with how quick they received their brand new "Knot Right Camo" Wilderness Systems Ride 135. 13 hours from order to receiving their boat at a local shipping hub! (It should be noted though, that this time can vary according to your shipping location. It helps that in this instance, the boat was going from TN to KY, but the 13 hour time frame was still impressive regardless. It takes most places 24 hours just to process an order, much less ship it out, so this is still an impressive feat!)

Chad Hoover, the frontman of HOOK1, is basically everywhere. When he's not filming episodes of KayakBassinTV, he's in the HOOK1 shop answering phones and taking orders, or he's out fishing or attending trade shows. In all fronts, Chad and the rest of the HOOK1 crew have been great advocates for kayak fishing, and is recognized by many as being one of the driving forces in bringing more visibility and interest to the sport.

Other sponsors lined up for the Bluegrass Yakmasters include Shimano, Hobie Fishing, NuCanoe, Kayak Angler Magazine, Cabin Creek Bait Company,, Logic Lures, Power Team Lures, Bending Branches, NRS, The Rod Glove, and ALE81. It's especially exciting to see some of the local companies such as Bullfrog Baits and Cabin Creek Bait Company on there. Those guys make some great baits and it'll be great to see some local places get more exposure.

I'm also very happy to see NRS and Bending Branches step up as a sponsor. I've used NRS for years as my go-to supplier of whitewater gear, and I LOVE my Bending Branches Angler Classic paddle (check out my review HERE). It's also impressive to see a big company such as Shimano step up as a sponsor. It goes to show, these guys mean business!

Now that we're done giving some much deserved credit to the sponsors, lets talk about the 2013 tournament schedule for the Yakmasters! There are several locations on the schedule that most people are familiar with or have at least heard of. Lake Cumberland and Green River Lake are well known for their quality of fishing, but I'm even more excited to be fishing the Elkhorn Creek and Cedar Creek Lake. The Elkhorn is quickly becoming THE go-to spot for smallmouth bass fishing. It's been proclaimed by many as the best creek in the state, if not the nation, for smallmouth bass fishing.

Cedar Creek Lake is quickly becoming one of the premier lakes for bass fishing. It was built with the sole purpose of being a trophy bass lake, and is already popping up on the radar as one of the top bass fishing lakes in the US, coming in at number 30 in the 2006 Field and Streams list of “The 35 Best Bass Fishing Waters in the U.S.” To give you an idea of just how impressive this achievement really is as well as how well this lake has been managed, Cedar Creek was impounded in 2003. It took just 3 YEARS to make the list as one of the best, and it's only gotten better since! I will be posting a completely separate article on Cedar Creek soon with more info and recent pictures/videos of this impressive body of water.

Here's the official 2013 Tournament Schedule for the Bluegrass Yakmasters, as copied from their Facebook page.

--- April 6th, 1st Annual Bluegrass YakMasters Open Tournament @ Cedar Creek Lake For the following 'Qualifying' events, participants must be a registered club member
--- April 27th @ Lake Cumberland
--- May 18th @ Green River Lake
--- June 8th @ Elkhorn Creek*
--- June 22nd @ Stoner Creek
--- July 27th @ S. Fork of the Licking River
--- August 10th @ Elkhorn Creek*
--- August 24th @ Beaver Lake
--- September 28th @ Guist Creek Lake
--- October 26th & 27th Bluegrass YakMaster Classic Championship @ Cedar Creek Lake+
* Tournament will be joined with the Elkhorn Creek Fishing Series, and will be open to the N. Fork, S. Fork, and Main Stem.
+ To fish in the Classic Championship, club members must participate in 5 of 8 Qualifying events.
For the coveted Angler of the Year Title and healthy prize package members will be trying to earn as many points as possible through the season. Members will receive 'Participation Points' for every event they fish. Members will also receive 'Placement Points' for how well they finished. Anglers can count all 'Participation Points' but only their best 5 'Placement Points' toward that total.
We will factor in water and weather conditions before each event to ensure safety of our participants.

One other thing that has been announced on the Bluegrass Yakmasters facebook page, is the raffle that will be after the 1st Annual Bluegrass Yakmasters Open Tournament on April 6th...
"BIG Announcement: We are going to have a raffle after the open. The Grand Prize will be a Wilderness Systems Ride 115 rigged by Chad Hoover of HOOK1. You can purchase tickets 1 for $10 or 3 for $25. Additionally if you sign up as a member at or before the open you will receive 1 ticket as well! Everyone has a chance to win this and other great prizes but you must be present to win!!! "

As I mentioned above, I'll be writing another post exclusively on Cedar Creek Lake, but I'll also be writing periodically on some of the other locations listed on the tournament schedule.  It's going to be a big year for kayak fishing here in Kentucky, so you'll definitely want to stay tuned...maybe even come out and fish with us!  The 1st Annual Open Tournament on April 6th already has 43 people listed as "going" on its facebook page, with well over 50 expected to register, it's going to be a huge event!  Click HERE to check out the Bluegrass Yakmasters, and HERE to check out the 1st Annual Bluegrass YakMasters Open Tournament.

See you on the water!