I can still remember the bright sunny late summer’s day as we returned home from the Cheshire mere. Radio One, still very new then, was playing for the first time the Beatles latest release ‘All you need is love’ on the hand held transistor radio we somehow got going in the car. Old Al’ was driving us in his dad’s black Standard 8 as it laboured up the hills under the heavy load. Big Al’, the youngest, was fiddling with the ABU 505 and still pondering on how it worked.
I sat hunched in the back seat with two baskets and all the holdalls. Once again I had to show Big Al’ how the pick-up pins retracted when you clicked the nose cone. After all, this was the first time any of us had seen one of these relatively new fangled ‘closed face’ reels let alone used one.
I used to buy almost all of my tackle from Hardy Bott’s, a small pet food and tackle shop near Victoria Station in Manchester. Over the years I got to know him quite well and although he didn’t generally trust people, he gave me the benefit of the doubt.
I had grown tired of my old Gilfin (or was it Gilpin?) fixed spool reel that I had used for a number of years and was looking for a replacement. Hardy was quite a fan of ABU rods and reels and kept increasing his stock of them. When I mentioned my intention to change he introduced me to the ABU 505 and to convince me he offered to lend me his own personal reel over the weekend. This is the one we had in the car and Big Al was not one to be trusted with anything mechanical, if you could help it.
I’d collected it from Hardy on the Friday evening and promptly returned it on the Monday morning, thankfully still in one piece and unmarked. It was a brilliant reel. You could use it single handed just by pressing the nose cone, the line fell to your finger, then just cast. Forget automatics, this was it and for spinning you could perform the catapult cast perfectly.
This was an action reel, not one for sitting all day slung under a rod in a rest. It was also a good reel for trotting as line simply peeled off the spool in a most orderly fashion. When you were ready to strike, simply hold you finger out straight across the front button and the line would catch against it allowing the strike to be completed. Turn the handle to wind in line, back wind it that quarter turn to bring the clutch into action.
The red anodised finish on the outer spool cover was superb and extremely hard wearing. Inside the stainless steel rotor cup and pins looked completely flawless. Hardy had even used this one for salmon spinning, his particular favourite sport. It made no difference as to what poundage of line was used, twist was kept to a minimum or so it seemed.
Strange that the 505 wound its line with a small, fixed pin and yet nowadays we need large rollers with ball bearings fitted? Suffice to say I was so impressed with it I ended up buying one.
Well I say I bought one, in fact I bought the cheaper 503 with the copper coloured cover. In every respect it was the same reel with the exception of the adjustable star drag which on the 503 was adjusted by a screwdriver. I kept it for a couple of years and then, for whatever reason at the time, I sold it and bought the 505 anyway.
That reel stayed with me for over 22 years. I fished everywhere with it from the River Dane to the Grand Union Canal. From the Trent to the Thames and from the drains of Lincolnshire to the pits of Buckinghamshire. Stick and waggler, big fish or small fry, the 505 handled them all.
One day, quite a few seasons ago now, I decided that it was time to change yet again. I advertised the 505 at £15 (cheap at the price since they are now collectors items) and it was snapped up by a chap from Weston-Super-Mare. I packed it carefully with bubble wrap in a stout box, but as I left the post office the words ‘idiot’, ‘dipstick’, and ‘plonker’ were ringing in my head.
I’d parted with an old friend and for what?
In between, a friend loaned me his Abu 1044, but it came with his warning that it wasn’t as good as the 506 in his opinion. It was sometime later that I bought a 501 at a tackle auction and that was a little cracker. Only paid £10 as well!
I was even tempted to buy a 507 MkII, but there was a lot of bad press about them. Well, it wasn’t so much the press, the magazines were all saying it was a good looking reel, which it was. The users all said what a dog it was and would never recommend it, but that was a shame because I really did like it, it did have good looks and I’m sure it wasn’t all that bad really.
In amongst all of these Abu regular models, there was also the ‘Diplomat’ 601 model, supposed to be an upper-class version of, presumably, the 501 that I had. It never really caught on and didn’t have the nice compact looks of the regular versions. In fact, suffice to say it was pretty ugly so perhaps that’s why it never caught on.
Say what you like, the really old ones were built like the proverbial brick shipyards, very robust and easy to fix. And didn’t other manufacturers come in with their “copies” of the same idea; there was a Daiwa closed face one, the DAM “coffee grinder” as it was known, and I seem to remember a green one very, very similar in shape to the old 501/506; was it by Masterline or someone?
Well, I didn’t have the 501 for all that long, I sold it to make way for the Premier 704, which is the latest model, that I still have and I still use. Somehow though, the quality today, although still very high, doesn’t seem quite as good as the early 5 series. The question is; should I try to obtain an old second hand 505 again, or a not so bad 501, or maybe get that dream 507 MkII after all or did I burn the bridge for good when I sold my original closed face reels?
Love them or hate them, they are now collectable and vintage.
A Very Serious Collection (photo from Wayne’s site).
My grateful thanks to Wayne Real (yes, that is his name) for allowing me to copy images (the 503 and the collection) from his site www.realsreels.com. Wayne also has a book entitled “The ABU Legacy” coming out in 2010, 500+ pages colour and hardback, but no pricing details sorted as yet with the publisher. My thanks also to Steve Beresford who sent me the pictures of his 505 and 501, which sadly have by now been sold. And finally, Christian Fench has this 507 MkII for sale and you know, I’ve put in a small bid for it, but I hope it goes for much, much more.
PS. I tried for it, but it went for more than I was prepared to pay. I did eventually buy one for a very reasonable sum and it is in near perfect condition, I’m delighted with it and it still has the old magic. Can’t understand all the bad press it got.