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Daiwa Free Swimmer BR

Words & Images: Kosta Linardos

I think it was in the early 90s when I owned a Daiwa spin reel with a Bite’N’Run or free spool function. It was a reel that had been designed for freshwater species in the overseas market and wasn’t built to withstand the rigours of saltwater fishing. That was almost 30 years ago and I’ve always wondered in the years since why they hadn’t released their own saltwater version of this reel (and over the years I have dropped hints to them that they should).  I was therefore very stoked to see Daiwa come out with a new version of it this year – the first time they have a made a reel like this as a dedicated saltwater reel. 

After a short discussion with Tom Slater, Daiwa Australia’s product development manager, I learned that Daiwa’s planning for a reel like this started in 2017 and after five years of collaborative development with New Zealand, the USA and Japan, it’s finally here.

If you’re unaware of exactly what a Bite’N’Run function offers, I’ll give you a quick rundown. The function allows you to put the reel in free spool with the flick of a switch with a lever to adjust the tension. It can be used when live baiting so a bait can swim freely, or so a fish can pick up a dead bait without feeling any weight, as finicky fish will often spit the hooks if they feel weight. After a fish has grabbed the bait and is running with it, you just need to wind the handle to engage the strike drag and this sets the hooks. It’s a great concept and design that’s always been extremely popular down here in Victoria’s snapper fishery and many other fisheries. For a long time I wouldn’t target fish without it engaged, and – like myself – many snapper anglers long to hear that distinct zing of the free spool drag screaming off.

Now you get how it all works, let’s get into Daiwa’s new Free Swimmer. It comes in two sizes of 8000 and 10000. The 8000 weighs 630g and the 10000 only 10g more at 640g. Each reel features five bearings with one in the line roller. Each size packs 10kg of drag and a powerful gear ratio of 4.7 that’s perfect for this style of fishing. The 8000 can take 300m of PE4 and the 10000 300m of PE5 and both sizes retail for the outstanding price of $269.

On spec everything is perfect. I love the gear ratio and drag capacity, although I’m sure some anglers would appreciate a smaller model around 5000 in size, though with these two sizes you’re covering everything you’d want to use it for. With an 8000 I can fish for snapper in Port Phillip and Western Port and then target kings or tuna with it. The 10000 will allow anglers to target big kings with huge salmon as live baits and it’s great for anglers chasing mackerel and tuna off the rocks.

I spooled the test model (an 8000) with Daiwa J-Thread Nylon in 20lb and matched it with Daiwa’s new BG Bluewater rod in PE3-5. The target species, of course, was Port Phillip snapper. The first thing I tested while rigging the rod was the tension on the Bite’N’Run function. It’s important that these aren’t too sensitive, have too much lag and that they can also be tightened enough to handle a large live bait. I can easily test this by pulling line with my hand and adjusting the tension and it’s perfect. It doesn’t lag, and each turn applies significant tension.  It provides enough tension that you can live-bait a 3kg salmon and it backs off enough that even the most finicky snapper will not feel weight as he picks up the bait. The size of the tension dial is perfect – with wet hands I had no issue adjusting it while it’s raining and it’s sitting in the rack. Daiwa is also to be commended on the lever switch, which is easy to access and a great size with a decisive click that lets you know when you’re in Bite’N’Run or fight drag.

I then sat and flicked the Bite’N’Run on and engaged fight drag with the reel handle looking for any misfires – none to be found, it perfectly engages every time. The reel is very smooth, feels very solid and the inclusion of an EVA power knob was the perfect choice for the style of fishing the reel is intended for.

I’m also really pleased with the simple aesthetics, black with subtle silver highlights, which suit the reel and its intended use.

I was now ready to get it on the water. The hard thing when testing a reel and rod when bait fishing for snapper with a spread of 4 to 12 rods is waiting for a fish to hit the rod you’re wanting to test. On the first two trips I think every rod in the spread got hit by a fish except the Daiwa, so it was very frustrating.

On the third trip it proved to be a difficult morning; the fish weren’t where we last found them, it was wet and rough, and we struggled marking any solid schools. A mate called us over to what were a few promising arches on the sounder, and we anchored about 600m ahead of him where we noticed the same. After about 45 minutes of dealing with small snapper I noticed the line on the Free Swimmer slowly moving under the boat, so I grabbed the rod, carefully ensuring I placed no tension on the line (which is an easier feat when Bite’N’Run is engaged), and set the hooks. The reel screamed off on a big run and that reassuring smooth ATD drag system that I’ve used to fight many snapper did its work. The run was so long and fast I started questioning what species this was, a few lift and winds and a big run again, followed by head shakes – this was a big snapper. I had to slightly increase the drag to turn its head and the BG Bluewater had the power to do it.  After another really fast run I started wondering if we had a gummy on – the conversation through the fight was “I think it’s a ray” to “actually, no there’s head shakes”, “yeah definitely a snapper”, “maybe a gummy actually” then we see colour – it’s a gummy! And a very respectable gummy for 15m depth in Port Phillip Bay. I was stoked, it was the perfect species to test out the Free Swimmer.

The reel performed faultlessly – there is zero flex in the reel, and it feels very solid through the fight and in general use.  It’s also a lot smoother than you’d expect for a reel at this low price point. If it was a $400 reel, just based on performance and feel I wouldn’t question it.  At $269 it’s outstanding. This is the style of reel anglers will want to buy four, five or six of for their snapper spread and I think Daiwa have got everything right about it. The handle, gear ratio, drag, line capacity, the long cast spool – they nailed it (but a 5000 size would be great).

Snapper anglers and land-based anglers aren’t renowned for taking great care of their gear and it’s fair that anglers will question a new reel’s durability long term in what is a demanding fishing environment. We obviously haven’t put this to the test and I can only comment on my experience with Daiwa reels so I think it will have a great shelf life, but I’ll let you know in Hooked Up edition 300 how it’s travelling.

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