I admit it, I'm a tackle snob and I sometimes turn my nose up at a bargain because it doesn't have the right label. But here I was, enthusing about barbel again for the first time since I was a kid and looking for a some barbel gear from all of the popular offerings by Greys, Daiwa and Shimano, But I kept coming back to a rod that I'd handled briefly at a recent fish-in and which had greatly impressed, if only for the obvious quality of the blank and finish. It was a Ron Thompson barbel rod from the B52 range and, in spite of 'the wrong label', on a whim I bought two.
It's said that you only get what you pay for, but first signs out of the box were good. From the bag comes a two piece rod (three with the quiver tip) giving either an Avon tip or a quiver section with a choice of two glass tips rated at 2 and 3oz and a carbon tip rated at 4ozs, all of which fitted together reassuringly well. Another reviewer from a popular angling magazine described these tips as 'tight'. That to me is a blessing, since I normally find supplied tips are 'loose' and have been known to fly off on the cast. Besides, they'll loosen up with use.
The rod is a 12 footer with a test curve rating of 1.75lb. It has a very comfortable good quality slim 22 inch cork handle spanning a smart piece of Duplon moulding around the Fuji style RT reel seat, silicone carbide lined rings, matt black finish to the blank and very simple dark bronze whippings around the rings and the male end of the joint. The colour coded quiver tips are extremely well finished (far better than my Drennan or Daiwa tips) with lined rings and weights marked on each, should you forget which colour is which.
Neither the graphics on the rod nor the advertising blurb identifies the composition of the blank but the spiral pattern in the rod blank is visually very similar to my Ron Thompson Gladiator and that's rolled from IM8 carbon, so I assume that the B52 blank being light and slim is built with more or less the same high quality materials.
It's an understated rod without the multi coloured graphics that I've come to expect on a budget rod. Just a simple 'handwritten' I.D on the butt. So it looks right. It feels right too since it's a very slim blank and weighs only 150 grams with it's avon tip. By comparison, my shorter Daiwa 11.5 ft specialist rod weighs 200 grams.
Ten minutes later I had the rod out in the garden with a reel fitted and the line attached to a big barbel â€¦well the shed door to be precise. I slowly pulled back and the rod went into a gentle arc and then a healthy bend until things started to gradually tighten up from the tip down and the power came on. I would describe the rod as having somewhere between a 'progressive' and 'through' action. You can put a healthy bend in the rod without it locking up.
Two days later I was on the Thames, anchored upstream of a likely barbel/chub swim and ready to give it a try.. Over the course of the morning I threw everything from 'nothing' up to underhand casting 6oz of loaded feeder. In spite of its lightweight appearance, it is a tough little rod and it coped very well at casting small free-lined baits whilst at the other end of the scale I never once got the impression that it was overloaded. Full blooded overhead casts with a big loaded feeder are however always performed at your own risk. That's just my disclaimer should you buy one and bust it.
Ron Thompson have clearly put a lot of thought into the design and at £59.99 whilst in a different league than some of the infinitely more desirable Harrison rods, it does compete favourably with other rods costing close to twice its price. It would probably cope as a river rod in all but the worse flood conditions and whilst its stated test curve of 1.75lbs is perhaps a shade higher than reality, it wasn't outgunned throwing small deadbaits in my usual futile attempt to catch a Thames zander.. With one of the lighter quiver tips fitted, it wouldn't be out of place feeder fishing for bream, tench or commercial pond carp.
I confess I was initially unsure about the B52. It felt too light in my hand for the price paid and I had read one report of a broken rod, so I decided to use it for a couple of months and see if it stood up to a little wear and tear in the boat before completing this report. As a result, I would summarise the B52 as an extremely nice rod at a silly price and a lot of fun to use. Its test curve rating might be just a little ambitious but it's not too far off. I had minor reservations about the quality of the SIC rod rings, the frames of which do lack the typical Fuji finish. But the ring inserts are very smooth and the rings on my other RT rod show no signs of deterioration after nearly two years of braid running through them. My only real gripe was that the painted tips of the quivers could have been extended a little further back down the tip to make low light 'bite spotting' even easier.
Using the right line and a decent reel makes a huge difference to how well a rod performs and on this occasion I was using 20lb PowerPro braid spooled on another Svendsen Sport offering, an Okuma Epix Pro EB40 baitfeeder.
This reel is an upgraded version of an immensely popular reel that has already been around for a while and briefly reviewed on AnglersNet last year. It differs cosmetically, most obviously the loss of the shiny metallic look in favour of a more restrained mostly black body and a choice of black or polished aluminium spools.
The reel is a 9 1 bearing model similar in size and function to a Shimano 3500 baitrunner except that 'baitrunner' becomes 'baitfeeder' on the Okuma. Its gearing is 4.5:1 and it comes with no less than three full size spools, a choice of both single and double handles and a set of spare gaskets for the side plates. Line capacity is 220yds of 10lb mono and its weight at 460 grams compares very favourably with the similar sized Shimano BTR 3500 at 557 grams and the Daiwa Regal at 490 grams.
The reel is a pleasure to use. Smooth quiet retrieve, superb line lay, far better than my Shimano 4010 or ABU 5000XT baitrunners, all of which require some manipulation and manual winding to get the line to lie even on the spool. The front clutch is big, very smooth and needs little encouragement to get going, whilst the micro adjustment on clutch and the bait feeder facility is excellent, particularly whilst trying to hold a bait and line in fast water with baitfeeder 'on'. The bale arm operation was initially very solid, so much so that with the bale arm open, I needed to wind the handle a little harder than usual to close it. By the same token, it's hard to accidentally trip the mechanism on the cast. If you normally operate the bale arm with your free hand as I do, then it won't make a difference, plus three months on, its much smoother.
It's one of the best freespool reels that I've used and considering its specification, at around £58 or less it's a bargain. It was always going to be hard to wean me off Shimano fixed spool reels, but this Okuma does so easily. A minor criticism. The single handle is a little long in the shaft for comfortable freshwater use. For cranking big saltwater baits and fish it's probably just right, but on balance the slightly shorter double handle was more comfortable on the river. However its useful to have the choice. A further nice touch is the individual reel number stamped into the frame.
'Cheap' doesn't necessarily mean 'nasty'. Both the rod and reel are inexpensive compared to their rivals and neither will break the bank. But apart from a few minor gripes they are both quality products. If you're concerned about the life span of this rod and reel, both come with a five year parts and labour guarantee. Can't say fairer than that
Saving the best until last, the rod and reel came as a combo and advertised at a combined price of only £79.99 plus £8 postage for the rod and the non baitfeeder version of this reel (EPR40). I upgraded to the baitfeeder version (EB40) reviewed here for an extra £13 per reel. That's just £92.99 for the rod and reel and still cheaper than a Greys Prodigy barbel rod without a reel. Bought separately from North West Angling Centre, the rod will cost £59.99 and the reel. £52.99. From www.fishtec.co.uk the reel is cheaper still.
Rod and reel supplied by www.nwac.co.uk
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