By ITB Editor
The masterful abilities of the Japanese in manufacturing excellence is undoubtedly correct. With great attention to detail built into their culture, the prosperous island country in East Asia breeds pride in engineering through a well-educated, industrious workforce and there are enormous efforts made in achieving a state of perfection. In similar fashion to Shimano and their high-performance bicycle groupsets turned fishing reel expertise through high-efficiency gearing with precise cold-forging of 3D metal shapes, Ken Matsuura’s high-end Japanese conventional reels bring about decades of experience engineering precision engine components for numerous motorcycle and race car factory teams.
Ken Matsuura Racing Service Co. has a rich history of crafting some of the fastest and high performing Japanese racing campaigns, and Mr. Matsuura happens to have a particular affinity for sportfishing. Borrowing advanced facilities and machinery in addition to proven design from the racing space, Ken Matsuura’s 50S and 80S are some of the most well engineered reels we’ve tended to. While the main stock is a finely polished aluminum, Matsuura’s racing pedigree has allowed for expansion to more technical materials.
“We made some out of titanium for special customers, but they were too expensive. $20,000 each!” says Koji Tsuchiya. An aluminum 50S is $6,000 USD but they aren’t even available for purchase. “Ken used to use Penn and Shimano reels, and he didn’t like it. So he said, ‘Ok, let’s make one.’ He didn’t plan to sell it when he made it, but people asked to make one for me, and me, and me. It’s not really a business, but he’s been making reels for more than 20 years.”
At first glance the conventional reels are anything but conventional with drag lever uniquely mounted on the left-hand side. There are 13 blue lines on the drag graduation and the lever allows for ½ stops on arc. A drag clicker key and push/pull drag preset dial exist on the left side of the reel. The benefit of having all the drag components arranged on the left is that it balances the mass of the reel to both sides. It was perfectly stable and showed no signs of wobble when torquing the handle.
Uniquely, the machined body is easily disassembled from the spool with the click of a button and can be taken apart in seconds without using any tools. There is no play in the removable handle, which is the result of a passion for precision machining on many parts that mate together perfectly. Adding to its allure is the Rolling Drag System that’s superbly over-engineered.
Compared to a traditional disc drag that increases friction with a clamping pressure, Ken Matsuura’s reels use a rolling friction drag design with a needle roller bearing. The mechanism uses rollers arranged obliquely on the tapered surface to reduce friction of the rotating spool. The components are encapsulated in oil and the entire reel is waterproof.
Disc drags typically expand with use and increase drag friction as reels heat up during lengthy fights. In contrast, Ken Matsuura’s rolling drag gradually decreases with time of use for a more consistent pressure throughout the entire fight. It is certainly of superior design, but the drag system is decidedly heavier than traditional disc drag washers and the extra gadgetry adds to the overall price tag that leaves many Americans gasping for air. It is perhaps the world’s most expensive fishing reel ever produced, yet there are some things money can’t buy.