I‘m a liberal leaning outdoorsman attempting to open the minds of right wingers to the idea that libs fish too. Anglers come from all walks of life, left, right, and center. Not everyone who fishes for bass is a redneck fond of Nascar, country music, and religiosity. Expect posts about largemouth bass fishing, techniques, reviews of lures and other products, but not any condemnable conservative rants. I hope to inspire the online angler community to dial down rhetoric which will do more harm than good to our sport.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

• I'm worried about Pflueger

After a recent and very brief exchange via Twitter, I decided to go ahead and write a post to discuss my thoughts on Pflueger reels and their current product lineup. I recently purchased a new Summit baitcaster along with an older model 6.4:1 Patriarch to replace two inexpensive reels. On Twitter, I was alerted to the fact that Pflueger had removed the Summit from their web site. The Summit is not listed in their 2011 catalog either.

As someone who is very fond of the Summit, this raised an eyebrow of concern, especially since this reel has not undergone a revision in a few years. What I must keep in mind, however, is that the Summit has been a name in the Pflueger reel family for a very long time. I doubt this reel is going away. I suspect they are in the midst of revising several products. The Summit in its present incarnation was a new reel back in 2006 or 2007. Much like the Trion, Pflueger has left the Summit to stand up against the baitcaster market on its own two feet, not making any major revisions along the way. The Patriarch arrived late to fill a void at the top where high end competitors were making major strides in innovation and quality. The President took a back seat as a mid-range reel and the Summit stood alone as a decent high speed alternative. Short of spending less than $100 for a Cetina, Pflueger did not give you anywhere else to go, until the arrival of the Patriarch. The Patriarch XT left many Pflueger fans and newcomers alike salivating for what might come next. Nothing really came next and with some of the Pflueger Pro Staff dropping the company, those of us who use Pflueger reels should speak up in some form or another.

When I first started browsing Pflueger products, I compared them to the Abu Garcia offerings as well as anything Shimano was releasing at the time. I noticed a trend in baitcasters across the board. Companies have a three tier system, possibly four. At the bottom, these companies push out inexpensive reels to give affordable options. In the middle, very affordable all-purpose reels are available for anglers at all skill levels. Beyond that, the top tier exists only as a pipe dream for many of us and required purchases for those serious tournament anglers. The other trend which remains steady across the board to this day is how companies keep products at the same price throughout the entire life span of the reel. While technically still new, by industry standards, many popular reels out there are getting long in the tooth two years after their introduction as other competitors innovate.

Not every product is perfect, but Pflueger looks to still be attempting to corner the sub-$100 market. Over time, consumers start paying less and less attention to these bargain reels as the big names emerge through grandiose promotional efforts and fairly reasonable prices. That’s where the mid-range products come into the picture. The $150 to $200 market is the primary target for every single reel company out there, in my opinion. No matter which brand you prefer, there is a good chance the flagship reel sits at or around $200 in price. The Curado floats Shimano, for example. The Patriarch has taken over as top dog for Pflueger. The Summit was right in that range along with the President, each specifically offering a different gear ratio. The Trion covered the 5:1 needs for the slow rollers out there. Timmy Horton was probably the biggest name out there pushing the merits of the Trion, and when I think of Pflueger, his name comes to mind. Unfortunately, Horton is one of the names which has dropped off the Pflueger Pro Staff list. Then you have the new Patriarch XT at the top of the pile. Every reel company needs to focus in on the high end features, making reels lighter and faster, improving drag specifications and braking mechanisms. The Patriarch XT did this for Pflueger, but after its introduction, I eagerly awaited new changes in their other reels. Those changes never really came. What changes we did see were not revolutionary, but rather, normal evolutionary changes to offset differences among Pflueger products themselves. As a friend on Twitter succinctly put it, Pflueger is bleeding.

Current Pflueger Pro Anglers

Pflueger differs from many companies because many of their products have very similar specifications. It is difficult to decide which reel to buy. The tiered system is not as defined. A company will end up cannibalizing sales of one reel because another product in the lineup is strikingly similar. Shimano fans were concerned about this cannibalistic effect when the Chronarch and Core underwent changes. Abu Garcia is not exempt from this criticism either, although the tough decisions are offset by specific product advantages. The Skeet Reese reels come to mind. Any reel with similar specifications evokes an online debate over whether it is actually worth buying.

The Trion recently underwent an overhaul, although the exterior design went from very ugly to just plain ugly. The revision still might serve as a sign of things to come. Pflueger must be working on revisions for the Summit as well as the many lesser known reels at the lower end of the spectrum. Still, as my Twitter and frequent blog commenter @MSPbass pointed out, Pflueger might be bleeding out. Abu Garcia is definitely taking away business from Pflueger, but even Shimano should be worried about Abu Garcia too. Pflueger might simply be competing against itself at this point.

Amidst the peculiar lineup, I cannot help but call attention to the two other industry-wide problems facing Pflueger. First, as a brand, they do not have quite the same following that the other big companies take advantage of. When one gets involved in conversations on the Tackle Tour forums, for example, Shimano and Daiwa dominate the dialogue. Only until recently has Pflueger made any headway into this conversation with the introduction of the Patriarch and Patriarch XT. Those of us who use Pflueger reels do so because we love how they perform, but Pflueger fans are still few and far between in the grand scheme of things. Second, in the world of reel repair, it seems like Pflueger does not have a very good reputation. Both opinions on design and availability of parts have always been, at least in my eyes, the two biggest conversation topics when reading about Pflueger reel maintenance. None of my reels have been to a shop yet and I’m worried that I might be in serious need of a break down at some point in the near future. However, companies often do not openly show that they service Pflueger reels, usually citing the two aforementioned reasons. Consumers, hearing these opinions and complaints will avoid buying Pflueger products because, should something go wrong, getting it fixed has proven to be a pain for many anglers. This was the story five years ago. Much like a well known computer company with an almost fanatical loyal following (Apple), the inability to break through the consumer market stigmas can severely limit market share. While some anglers have been able to get parts and problems resolved without any headaches, the complaints always outnumber the satisfied customers, and so a stigma becomes perpetuated by word of mouth.

You can order specific parts from Pflueger here.
Request Schematics
Warranty/Service Info

If anyone has a reputable repair guy who services Pflueger reels (in the US and preferably nearby), let me know. The season never really ends down here, but short of learning how to break down the reel on my own, I need to find someone to get this kind of work done at some point before I do any damage to a worm gear or some other vital internal part situated beyond my tinkering comfort level.

Since starting this blog, I have taken a liking to Pflueger baitcasters, mainly because I appreciate the smoothness in the braking system and the range granted by the magnetic brakes. In light of the release of the Patriarch XT and the realization that anglers want left handed baitcasters, Pflueger has an opportunity to expand their following if they revamp their reels just like Shimano, Quantum, and Abu Garcia. Seeing as how it is my understanding that Pfluegers and Abus come from the same production line overseas, it stands to reason that they could very well ease into some very profound design changes without unraveling the fabric of time.

What would I like to see?

A big selling point on many of the new Abu Garcia reels has been the drag strength. While many of us will never see a 24lb fish, the 2011 catalog finally shows Pflueger reels with 14 to 20lb drags across the board. Shimano really only pushes their reels to 10 to 12lbs, so although there isn’t much of a need for a change, Abu still has the advantage in the eyes of the consumer. If the difference becomes negligible, consumers might buy Pflueger reels for other reasons. A level playing field purely based on the numbers always makes anglers think before buying. Any shortcoming ends up becoming accentuated as a weakness. The new more powerful drags deserve praise, but I’d like to see a carbon fiber upgrade option for the Summit. There have been visitors to this blog asking for just such an upgrade, so I know there is a demand out there.

In fact, in terms of parts, I’d like to see widespread availability of interchangeable/universal parts. I’d like to browse drag washers and know that I could get an upgrade without having to know anything outside of the model reel I own. From bearings to handles, customization is a big deal in baitcasters. Create a new breed of enthusiast, a Pflueger enthusiast. Give me swept handle options, a spare spool, and easy access to maintenance instructions. I don’t know if Pflueger realizes this, but people search for Pflueger schematics on a regular basis. There is a reason why I’ve shown how to take the handle off in both a blog post and a YouTube video. In the near future, I plan on doing another partial breakdown of a Summit (and maybe my Patriarch), at least for tackling the most basic of maintenance. I am still not brave enough to yank out a worm gear.

I am finally glad to see the Trion get an overhaul. The older Pflueger baitcasters were ugly and bulky-looking. The new Trion is lighter and although still on the ugly side, if Pflueger would have put this out on the market last year when I was browsing 5:1 reels, I would have bought it over the Curado, or at least seriously considered it.

Unless you’re a slow roller, there is no sales pitch in having anything less than a 28 IPT specification on most reels. This is another reason why I prefer the wide spool versions of the Summit and Patriarch over the normal spool width. Pflueger should also make sure retailers publish correct specifications for their reels. From Bass Pro to Tacklewarehouse, it is next to impossible to find out information like line recovery and drag power. Some retailers have even been dead wrong on bearing counts. Luckily, the new catalog has all of this information, but that does not help the consumer when a retailer publishes incorrect information.

Weight reduction is the new standard in the world of baitcasting. The XT has been trimmed down to the 6oz range. The rest of the lineup obviously has some difficulty breaking into the 7oz bracket, but compared to past revisions, the trend is promising. If Pflueger can drop some weight without sacrificing strength and durability, they will definitely steal some customers away from Quantum and Abu Garcia. Maybe not Shimano, but you can’t win them all. I may not be a fan of Bass Pro anymore, but the specs on the Carbonlite baitcaster imply that Pflueger could create a reel of equal quality and performance at a reasonable price, something I’d seriously consider buying for myself.

From a buyer’s perspective, Pflueger has a lot of room to improve. The race for top spot in the world of baitcasters is on. Competition is fierce. The changes across all brands have been largely incremental and mirror the CPU speed battles between Intel, AMD, and Motorola/IBM. We all see how that turned out. Intel took over, although they are faced with competition from ARM. When CPU speeds became negligible for most users, other features became selling points. I hope reel manufacturers learn lessons from this battle because they are following a very similar pattern in marketing. I hope Pflueger can step up their game and move away from old methods towards innovation that brought us the Patriarch XT. I remain hopeful, but I’m worried the Pflueger presence at the next ICAST will fail to impress.


Jason - Wired2Fish.com said...

Interesting perspective on Pflueger. I own several reels as well. Summitts, Presidents, Trions, and Sumpremes. Mine are all several years old and still perform very well. When Jarden took over Pure Fishing and Pflueger a lot of technologies bled across brands. Abu's Revos have pflueger engineering in them now as well. It wouldn't surprise me if the brand merges into another brand. They're all be made in the same place any how.

BassFishingDem said...

A merger would be an interesting turn of events.

MDtolic said...

Pfluger did the work and Abu reaped the benefits. Marketing was key. Not that Abu’s aren't great reels, but when a "Revo guy" knocks Pflueger it kills me. I'm sure Jarden has thought about consolidating but I suspect they want to keep Abu just how it is; for the time being at least. Why mess with a good thing, right? the question is... how long will they keep Pfluger as is?

The new Trion was a surprise to me though. More than (possibly) dropping the Summit, in fact. Have you ever used one of the "old" Trions @BassDem? That "ugly" outside transforms into a thing of beauty when you do. There’s a reason they stayed the same for so long. But that’s how it goes in the world of wheeling & dealing. Aesthetics are important to sales. I get that.

You know I’m a loyal Pfluger user. It started with a President spinning reel that was just a perfect fit for me and now I own Trions, Presidents, Supremes & Patriarchs. Pfluger has never given me any reason to look elsewhere. However, there’s a clear line in the Pfluger catalog. Anything below the Trion is, quite frankly, garbage. (I’ve tried a few, so I’m not just being a Pflueger snob here.) Half my reels were purchased used too. They have stood the test of time. I’ve done a bit of my own maintenance as well. Once you tear down a reel, it becomes a lot less intimidating. I suggest you give it a try. I do it on a piece of cardboard to make sure every single piece stays put. I can also write notes on the cardboard if I need any reminders. - @MSPbass

@JD_Paragon said...

As you know I really enjoy reading your blog, and even more so now that I can view in mobile...so nice job on that!

Your recent Pfleuger review struck a cord, as I read it shortly after I sent the one and only Pfleuger reel (President 6735) I own to Pure Fishing for repair. Full disclosure...I actually lost a part and reassembled incorrectly during my first attempt at reel cleaning and maintenance. Trust me, I'll leave that job to the experts from now on!

I did, however, fully disclose my reel maintenance deficiencies to Pflueger on the return/repair maintenance form and completely expected them to bill me for the part, routine maintenance ($15+/-) + shipping and handling.

I purchased this reel prior to the 2009 season and really enjoyed using it, especially on my drop-shot rod. Perhaps it had something to do with the multiple 5+ pound smallies I caught that summer, but I really felt the President performed better than several Shimano and Quantum spinning reels I've owned in the sub-$100 price range. It has great balance, a smooth drag, and even seems to recover more line per turn (although it's listed as a 5:2:1 gear ratio) than the other comparables I mentioned. The biggest mistake I made was not sending it in for repair prior to the 2010 season, due mainly to the lower replacement cost of the reel vs. my assumption of how much I'd spend to ship it to Pure Fishing and have it repaired. The end result of that decision was one rod "naked" (without a reel) last summer, a disappointing season of drop-shotting, and if I haven't mentioned already...a clear understanding of why I SHOULDN'T ever again try to self-maintenance my reels!

So now I come back to your blog and why I think it's important to comment. Obviously, you know a thing or two about Pflueger reels, their history, and performance based on first-hand user experience. You did, however, question their ability to market, repair, and maintain innovation with the product. I'm not really a brand loyalist when it comes to fishing reels, as I own various makes and models from what most fisherman would consider the
"top manufacturers." But, what does make me a brand loyalist is how a Company responds to problems, whether they be with a defect found in the product itself, or as in my case pure customer error.

Today I received a brand new Pflueger President 6735 fishing reel on my doorstep. I sent the reel in for repair a week ago. Heck, I even got another spare spool and soft travel case....just because. There was no invoice or request for return postage to be paid, just a packing slip showing no charge and a "thanks for your business and enjoy your reel."

How much you want to bet I go BUY a Patriarch XT this spring...just because...and start converting my reel arsenal to Pflueger products going forward? So, thanks again for the review, and know there is at least one guy out there who thinks Pflueger's reputation as a customer satisfaction and reel maintenance company is pretty darn solid. They're 1 for 1 with me so far!

BassFishingDem said...

I wish more stories were like that online. Like I said in my post, complaints always seem to outnumber satisfied customers. I have definitely read my share of positive stories related to actually sending a reel in directly to the company. Unfortunately, the positive spin is usually countered by negative comments from those who either do reel repairs or from those who did have some sort of an issue. From a PR standpoint, this sort of thing worries me. Quite often, a reputation matters more than the reality.

Gdubfish said...

Getting parts for a pflueger when they break is a nightmare. I have used pfluegers for many years and overall have been satisfied with the quality and feel of the reels. Problem is I have had the line guide pawls on 2 of my trions wear out. Called pflueger last summer and they told me they were out of that part and wouldnt have a shipment in until october! Ended up replacing the pawls with an identical one found in two of my browning reels. Lucky for me they had the same part or id be stuck without two of my reels until october. Called back today to get 2 more pawls to replace in my other two trions and the lady said that she couldnt find the part in inventory on her computer. My opinion: Solid reels at a good price, especially when compared to a comparable shimano or daiwa model (bearing count, one piece frame, etc.) Just hope that nothing decides to break on one, that is where the trouble begins.

Anonymous said...

About 8 years ago I bought 2 Purist reels to replace a few older reels. My first trip out with those reels was very disappointing as the reels sounded like someone launched a missal every time I would cast and quality seemed to be sub par to say the least. I chose the Purist because the frame was small and easy to grip. I called Pflueger the next day to find out if there was something about these reel that I was doing wrong or if they just were not very good. The service tech that I spoke with said some guys were not happy with the Purist reels and that he would upgrade me to 2 Trions at no cost, I agreed to do so and was satisfied with the Trions. He sent the new reels with a return label to send the Purists back.How do you argue with customer service like that? Not only did they upgrade my reels at no additional cost, they trusted me to return their product after the fact. I now own 6 Trions,2 Summits and 4 Patriarchs. I hope they still treat customers with that kind of service since being bought up by Pure Fishing.

Anonymous said...

quite an interesting blog that i happen to browse. as a tackle dealer and fishing writer, i do noticed and agreed to what you are saying about pflueger/abu similarities. in fact, since 2010 in my country, reels under the pure fishing stable has somewhat been sidelined despite some being good or even great reels. people are going for more expensive japanese reels (even though some are made licensed elsewhere) due to better and distinct variations of their models. Not to mention aggressive marketing.

Keep fishing and writing

Anonymous said...

Not a casting reel story, but about a Pflueger spinning reel and parts. I damaged a small spring while greasing a President XT (now a discontinued model), called Pflueger, and they sent me two new springs, for free, with overnight delivery at no charge. Yeh, they didn't work on the reel, I did, but I cannot ask for more from any company.