Centerpinning 101 5

Nov 03, 2010 by Guest

John Whitlatch from Reel Adventures put Ray into this Methow steelhead

BY RAY GOMBISKI. Exactly one year ago I was invited on a centerpin trip with John Whitlatch of Reel Adventures. John is a premier guide on the Kenai River in Alaska and for years has touted the centerpins effectiveness for steelhead. One trip was all it took and I became hooked on this different style of fishing. Over the next year I pondered buying a Centerpin rod and learning the art of “pinning”.  After some convincing by John, I spent the money and bought myself a 14’ Raven centerpin rod and an SST-2 reel.

Over the last month I have been “pinning” exclusively and when I tell my friends that I am using this different kind of rod and reel their first question is, “What is a centerpin?”

A centerpin rod consists of a 14’ spey style rod with a long handle and a reel that resembles a fly/mooching reel with zero drag. This combo fishes best with a float and your bait of choice (eggs, shrimp, jigs, etc.). The distinct advantage of the Centerpin is a drag free drift. There is absolutely no resistance on your float as it carries down the drift. The Centerpin reel is constantly in a state of motion letting line out as you extend your drift. 

The concept is very similar to free drifting from a boat. The bait is allowed to flow as natural as possible down the drift with no swing and no resistance. I have float fished with spinning reels and casting reels and nothing compares to the presentation that this long rod and free flowing reel produces.

After hooking a few fish the fly fisherman in me wants to take control, however, the centerpin must be treated exactly opposite from a fly reel. The drag is your fingers wedged in the front of the reel between the rod and the spool. Conceptually this was one of the harder habits I had to break. With a fly rod I would tend to palm the reel with my left hand and reel with my left hand.

With the centerpin, I need my left hand to reel and keep up with the fish as the reel has a direct, 1:1 ratio. Using my left hand just to reel allows me to react as fast as I can when a large steelhead is on the end of the line.

Casting the 14’ rod with a zero drag reel and monofilament line has proved to be the hardest part for me to learn. The centerpin has more than a dozen different ways to cast and none of them are easy to learn.

The cast begins with letting line out in your back cast. This will allow the spool to start building momentum before the rod draws forward. Once the rod is behind you the motion doesn’t stop. The cast continues in a loop and draws forward and the line peels off the reel. This motion is different from every rod I have ever casted. At no point in the cast does the angler load the rod up and push it forward. The cast is one fluid motion that begins when the rod is in front of the angler.

Centerpinning is not for the faint of heart. It is very difficult to learn. That being said, once you learn to centerpin you will become a better steelhead fisherman with another arrow in your quiver. I will continue to pin this winter and learn how to cast farther and fish more effectively. For videos and information about the centerpin visit    


Tobeck on Nov 10, 2010 at 12:46 am said:

Great explanation and detail on "pinning". Now I just jfound something else to spend money on, thanks.

Mito on Nov 08, 2010 at 5:44 am said:

Ray, Thanks for the article and picture. I've fished with John before but never center pinned with him. This story makes me want to book a flight and learn the "art" of pinning. See you on the river....

Whitty on Nov 05, 2010 at 9:41 pm said:

Good job Ray! I'm pretty sure your hooked but I sincerely hope you keep pinning. We're just getting started buddy.

Thrasher on Nov 04, 2010 at 2:10 am said:

Great read Ray! Nice to see you enjoying the pin. I've been using mine for a few years and love it. The drifts you get with them are stellar. It's amazing though still how many people turn up their noses at the thought of using them and think that they are merely old school technology. I love mine!!

Robbo on Nov 02, 2010 at 4:39 am said:

John has been putting up unbelievable numbers using center pins on the east side the last couple years. A guided trip on the river with him would be money well spent, as you get to hammer a bunch of fish and learn this awesome new technique. Looks like I need yet another rod...the wife will be happy.


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