1970’s ABU ambassadeurs (from a tightlines catalogue)
Why on earth do I own 5 different ABU multipliers you may well ask? Surely just one of these venerable old multiplying reels is enough for any fisher? Two of them may seem overkill and any more is simply rampant hedonism. The answer is that I don’t need them all but I use them for slightly different roles. So today I thought you might like to see what I use these old wonders of Scandinavian mechanical engineering for. Let’s start with the big lads, the 7000’s
ABU Ambassadeur 7000 and 7000C
a pair of very grubby looking 7000’s.
They built them tough in Sweden! This pair are my heavy beachcasting reels. Both date from the early ‘80’s and continue to serve me well despite horrific abuse over the intervening decades. Purchased new (from Somer’s in Aberdeen when they were still in the tiny shop in Thistle Street if my memory serves me correctly), these monsters were at the time regarded as the very best reels for surf casting. The competition has improved over the years and at the same time I feel the modern AB Garcia’s are not as strong as the old reels.
my red 7000, showing a few battle scars
These pairs are certainly no match for modern multipliers but these days my fishing does not require gargantuan casts to the far horizon. Although they look beat up I’m hopeful they will see me out as, despite outward appearances, I have maintained and lubricated them regularly. The red 7000 in particular carries many battle scars, the result of long forgotten finger-tip scrambles down steep rocks to get to remote marks. I used to take just my 6 ounce beachcaster and the 7000 with me when attacking the more extreme marks, meaning scrapes and scratches for both rod and reel as I slithered down granite and basalt outcrops. This reel is built like a tank and soaked up the punishment, no matter how extreme the mark was.
Rock marks like this one in Donegal were tough on my gear
So what is the difference between a 7000 and a 7000C? Ball bearings is the answer. The old original 7000 came with brass bushings on the spool while the 7000C sports stainless steel roller bearings. These super-duper bearings should give much better performance but in practice I found that there was not much to pick between the two reels. The numbers stamped on the reel foot tells me the red 7000 dates from 1980 and the black ‘C’ from just two years later, so they are both knocking on for 40 years old!
The level wind on a 7000. Removing this improves casting performance markedly
Size and line capacity of the 7000’s is identical and they are both beasts of reels, strong and reliable in even the most extreme conditions. I have two 7000’s because I often fish with a pair of beachcasters. This allows me to push one bait out a long way and drop the other bait closer to the shore. I can also try different baits and rigs by using both rods/reels. On a slow day this keeps me ticking along, just reeling to check the baits, making small changes or trying out different rigs. On a day when the fish are biting it can lead to high excitement as both rods go off at the same time!
ABU Ambassadeur 6500C3
Next in line I possess an elderly 6500C3. I have seen beautiful examples of this type of reel; the chrome rockets in particular are pure fishing porn! My one is a somewhat shabby model dating from 1999 which I picked up second-hand. It is more Nora Batty than Marilyn Munro I am afraid. 6500’s are among the most popular beach reels and the various versions can been seen in action across the globe wherever distance casting is required. If you are in the market for a 6500 you need to decide if you are going to plump for one with or without the level wind. The sports mags and ultracast’s were superb reels with no level wind to slow them down. My old C3 has a level wind but is still a fine casting machine. I’ve tweaked my one a little by replacing the spool bearings with semi-ceramics.
The all important ‘made in sweden’ logo
Smaller and neater than their big cousins, the 6500 range are lovely reels in use. They somehow just feel ‘right’. This is important to me. When I’m fishing I like my gear to be an extension of myself, both physically and emotionally. The sense of ‘oneness’ adds hugely to my enjoyment of a day on the water. Over the years I have owned some rods and reels which I never really felt were right, despite hefty price tags and well-known brand names.
In case you are wondering, the difference between a 6500 and a 6000 reel is the 6500 has higher gearing and therefore a faster retrive speed.
I use the 6500C3 for lighter beach and rock work in saltwater. Spool capacity is one hundred and fifty yards of 20 pound mono, not nearly as good as the 7000 but then again it is not so agricultural as the big old 7000’s. Paired with my 4 ounce beachcaster it can chuck a lead a fair old distance.
This one needs a good clean!
The topic of handles always inspires a lively debate among Ambassadeur owners. To some it is sacrilege to change any part of the hallowed reels. To others , and I fall into this category, upgrading your reel can be a good thing if it is done well. 6500’s came with a small double paddle handle which were fiddly on the beach in the cold and wet. Power handles for retro-fitting became widely available and these are a useful upgrade in my opinion. I am thinking of changing the double paddle handle on this reel for a power handle.
ABU Ambassadeur 5500C
Boys oh boys, this is a dream of a reel! I use it for casting and trolling for salmon (I know, what a waste using a 5500C for dragging metal behind a boat!!!). Everything about the 5500C oozes class; smooth and light yet strong and aesthetically gorgeous. Of all my ABU multipliers this is my favourite. ABU made a range of different 5500’s over a long production run and you can see why these little beauties were so popular. Essentially a narrower 6500, the 5500 series are favoured by salmon and pike anglers. I think those who pursue catfish in the States use them too.
The free spool control is sensitive on this reel
My example dates from 1973 but there is hardly a mark on it and it fishes perfectly. The only downside of this reel is that it does not have a clicker. I’d like that refinement for those all too rare occasions when a salmon grabs the bait and that wonderful sound of the clicker screaming fills the air!
not mine, but examples like this pristine 5000 cost thousands to buy
ABU Ambassadeur 4500CB
Finally, we come to a bit of an oddball – a 1980’s 4500CB. These reels would not be very common here in Ireland as they were designed for the USA market where small baitcasting reels were developed for use by bass fishermen. Flipping jerk baits for large mouths required a reel with specific characteristics and the small ABU’s were hugely popular across the pond. From what I can gather, they have been largely replaced by those fancy new baitcasting reels that look like something out of a Batman movie!
I picked my one up on ebay for a smallish sum. It is in good condition but cannot be described as pretty. It’s functional but not eye-catching. I have seen some lovely examples out there, gorgeous wee reels in lustrous dark green, silver or Florida orange hues. Again, the pretty ones command high prices in the marketplace.
The ‘CB’ denotes that this reel has an unusual sophistication – a self-centring level-wind no less! I must confess that exactly how this is an advantage in every day fishing escapes me, but it is a sweet little reel which I bought specifically for trolling. These reels were designed to hold 10 pound breaking strain nylon but I reckoned that was close enough in diameter to modern 30 pound b/s braid. Trolling for salmon here-abouts does not require massive line capacity of a reel, one hundred yards is more than sufficient as you can turn the boat and follow even the mightiest fish out to deeper water. As the reel for my ‘poker’ – the short middle rod when trolling – it only has about 15 yards of line out when fishing. The 4500CB accepts 120 yards of heavy braid, meeting all my requirements in a neat little package. This reel also has a level-wind which does seem to be overkill considering the narrow spool, but hey, why not flaunt it if you got it!
The decision to buy an old 4500C was deliberately taken to give me a reel purely for matching up with the poker rod and 30 pound braid. Then I mixed things up a bit! A fella in New Jersey was selling off some spools for my reel at a very, very low price so I simply had to buy all three of them. Now I am in the happy position of being able to switch the wee reel between different uses as required.
spare spools for the 4500 CB
If under extreme duress, you were to restrict me to only one of the above reels I would have to plump for the 6500C. It can easily do everything the others can do. I bought the 7000’s at a time when I was rock fishing (frequently in the dark) for winter cod on Scotland’s North East coast. Heavy leads, slung into the teeth of a gale amid mountainous seas needed tough reels and the big 7000’s could handle the stresses and strains with aplomb. They have easier lives now, gently lobbing baits into summer seas for doggies and rays. The 6500C is build for this type of shore fishing and would work just fine when casting or trolling for salmon too.
The 5500C is probably slightly under-gunned for rock fishing. It is perfect for salmon fishing though. It is a pure joy to fish with when casting heavy baits (20 – 40 grams). It is hard to put into words but this reel somehow just feels ‘right’.
The baby of the pack, the 4500CB is very much a specialist piece of equipment for Irish fishing, too small by far for most ‘normal’ angling situations here. But it does exactly what I require of it so it has earned its place in my tackle bag. Now that I have spare spools for it I can also use it for other situations where light lines are required.
So that is the reason I have acquired all these different reels over the years; I don’t really need them all but each one is a delight to use and they add to my enjoyment each time I use them. The small differences between then give them individual characters. The doughty, world worn heftiness of the old 7000’s is a million miles removed from the genteel, silken feel of the 5000C or the dinky wee 4500CB. I get huge enjoyment out of using these old reels, the workmanship and design are timeless and fit well with my values when it comes to fishing gear.
If you hanker after an old, Swedish manufactured Ambassadeur yourself they are easy to find secondhand. Expect to pay big money for rare models in mint (or even unused) condition. There are many collectors who track down the finest examples for their display cabinets. Reels with minor surface wear can be had for a lot less. Of course there are some extremely dodgy reels floating around the secondhand market and it is very much a case of ‘buyer beware’. Look out for reel which exhibit heavy corrosion (especially on the cage), cracked side plates or grinding gears and avoid these like the plague. Spare parts are easily available but if you have a lot of work to do to a reel it soon becomes quite expensive. Oh, and a word of caution – owning old Ambassadeurs can quickly become an addiction (see above!). Don’t go buying gear you can’t afford.
Please don’t run away with the notion that I am an expert on these old Ambassadeurs – I assure that I am anything but that! Check out youtube for lots of videos on cleaning, strip down and upgrades for these reels. There is a wealth of information out there. Then there are the specialist collectors who have websites you can visit to drool over their immaculate reels. If you really want to get into collecting these reels in a serious way then the bibles written by Simon Shimomura, author of not one, but three books on collectable Ambassadeur reels. I will leave you with multiple photos!
Clockwise from the left: 4500CB, 6500C and 5500C
the famous ABU badge
in case you didn’t know what it was
I wonder how many times I have pressed this free spool button down?