Wednesday, January 23, 2019

KastKing Spartacus Plus –vs- Piscifun Phantom X

Not all fishermen can afford the high dollar prices of fishing reels today.  The top of the line baitcasters will run you $250 plus if you get one with all the bells and whistles.  There are some cheaper models from the big name companies but I’ve found all of them lacking for the price tag of $100 plus you have to pay.  Today there are a lot of new Reel Companies popping up that are offering reels for under $100 that have been getting some really good reviews.  I have read a lot of these reviews and I’m not too sure of the knowledge of some of the reviews.  Not questioning what they have written, just how much experience they have with reels and putting them through their paces.  So what I did was buy two of the more highly rated reels that cost me about $50 each.  Notice I said bought so this review is really on the up and up folks and I don’t owe anything to either of these companies.  Now mind you these are my opinions based on my 50 plus years of fishing baitcasting reels and what I like in my baitcasting reels. So I’m sure that if any of you owns one or both of these reels you might disagree with some of what I say.  That’s alright too as we are all different with different likes and dislikes. 

Now to get started let’s take a look at the 2 reels and their basic specifications.

As you can see from the specs of these 2 reels they are pretty equal.  The Spartacus Plus does have the edge over the Phantom X in number of Bearings, but that doesn’t always equate to a better reel.

I placed these reels on identical Favorite Fishing 7’2” Medium Heavy Defender Rods and loaded them both with K9 Fishing Products 17lb Fluorocarbon line.  I also fished the same bait, a Turbo Bullet 2 Swing Hook from Bounty Hunter Turbo Buzz on both setups.  The baits were different colors and that was the only difference when I hit the water.  With everything as equal as I could make it for this test here is my opinion on these reels.

First Impression out of the Box:
Just like everything else in life that First Impression is very important. 

I received the Spartacus Plus first and wasn’t impressed with what I saw when I opened the box.  The finish on this reel makes it look plastic and cheap.  However the oversized cork crank grips were a very nice touch and they felt very good.  The reel turned smooth and was light in the hand but it was a little bigger in size than the reels I’m use to fishing.

The Phantom X arrived 2 days later and it looked very nice when I opened the box.  The finish is as good or better than that of the high dollar reels.  The crank itself is wider than what you will find on most reels which was nice and the grips were of a standard size, but the material is very nice and slip resistant.   The reel turned smooth and was light in the hand, plus its size was very close to the low profile reels I normally use.

The Phantom X won the First Impression category.

Spooling Line:
You can learn a lot about a new reel by spooling line for the first time.  In this case both of the reels continued to be smooth and really had no issues that I could find fault with.  The Phantom X seemed to spool a bit faster with its larger crank but the oversized cork crank grips of the Spartacus Plus really felt very nice.

They tied in the Spooling Line category.

Initial Setup:
After I spool a new reel I tie on the bait I plan on using, I setup the reel so it will be as close as possible for making that first cast.   Sometimes my initial setup is dead on the money and other times I have to make a few to a lot of adjustments once I get to the water.

The Spartacus Plus was a real pain to get setup.  The Spool Tensioner was the biggest pain during this setup.  This tensioner is where you can tighten or loosen the spool and the tighter you get the less freely the spool will turn.  I generally tighten the tensioner to the point that the bait’s weight alone will slowly pull line from the spool.  Since the Spartacus Plus Spool Tensioner does not have a click type adjustment it is not easy to tell how far you move the tensioner making this part of the setup take longer.  The next step in this setup is to adjust the magnetic anti-backlash to a Mid-Range setting.  The Spartacus Plus has both an internal and external adjustment for the magnetic anti-backlash.  I set it for the mid-range setting on the external adjustment dial and didn’t change the internal adjustment.  The drag setup was quick and easy on the Spartacus Plus with the star having click adjustments.  The drag on the reel seemed to be very smooth.

The Phantom X wasn’t easy to setup either.  Now the Spool Tensioner on the Phantom X does have click adjustments so that part of the setup went very fast.  The magnetic anti-backlash on the other hand did not go as well.  The Phantom X does not have an external adjustment for the anti-backlash.  You have to remove the side plate to make any adjustments which I really don’t like if I have to adjust something when I’m out on the boat fishing.  Anytime you open up a reel there is a chance of parts falling out and ruining your day.  When I opened the side cover on the Phantom X the cover did not freely come off the reel and pulled the spool out with it.  Of course the spool fell and went rolling across the floor.  Once I got the spool back in the reel, I’m not going to tell you everything that I had to do to accomplish this, I set the magnetic anti-backlash to its mid-range setting.  Now I really have my fingers crossed I don’t have to open this thing up when I’m out on the boat!!  The drag setup was quick and easy on the Phantom X as well with the star having click adjustments.  The drag on the reel seemed to be very smooth.

In the Initial Setup category I’m going to give a slight edge to the Spartacus Plus.  Even though the spool tensioner is better on the Phantom X, I didn’t have to open the Spartacus Plus to adjust the anti-backlash.

Final Setup:
The final setup is normally done when you are on the water and start casting the new reel for the first time.   Now I use to do this in my front yard so I’d be ready when I hit the water, but my wife and kids complained about me looking stupid or something out casting in the yard so I stopped that practice.

The final setup of the Spartacus Plus was no less of a pain than the initial setup was.  It took at least 20-25 casts until I got it where it was performing suitably for me to make the casts I wanted to make without having backlash or control issues.  The biggest cause of these issues was again the Spool Tensioner being very touchy and not having any means to know how far I’ve moved it.  So I spent a lot of time adjust both the Tensioner and Anti-Backlash until I got them both set so I could make long casts without backlashing.

The Phantom X needed some tweaking as well for its final setup.  My major concern with this reel was adjusting the anti-backlash where I’d have to remove the cover.  Yes I did have to make an adjustment, but this time when removing the side plate I knew to make sure the spool didn’t come out with it.  Luckily I got it right on the first adjustment so I didn’t have to remove the side plate again.  I did have to make an adjustment to the spool tensioner as well but it was easy with the click adjustment.  In all the final adjust to the Phantom X only took about 5-6 casts.

In the Final Setup category the Phantom X won hands down even though I had to remove the side plate while out on the boat.  The Spartacus Plus just did not seem to react to the adjustments I made like other reels I’ve used in the past and I was just about ready to just call it quits when it started to act right.

The fishability of a reel is the most important aspect.  It doesn’t really make a lot of difference how long it takes to get a reel setup if it fishes very nicely.

I actually caught the first bass of the morning using the Spartacus Plus before I had the final setup complete.  It was a nice 20 inch bass that was almost 5lbs and it told me that I had the drag on the reel set just a tad light.  After getting the reel’s final setup complete it casted nicely to start.  It was a little big in the hand, but not so big to be uncomfortable.  The oversized cork crank grips are really awesome and I think the best part of this reel.  I did catch a second 17 inch bass on it and was feeling pretty good about this reel.  Then two things happened that changed my mind a little bit.  First off I started to feel a clunking as I was cranking the reel.  It didn’t happen on every cast which was odd and it took me a while to figure it out.  What was causing this clunking from time to time depended on which of the cork crank grips I was using.  One of them has a little too much play in it and though I tried to tighten it, it was as tight as it would go.  The second issue was the reel started to squeal at the end of each cast.  I’m hoping that adding a little oil to the spool bearings will fix this issue but I won’t know until I take it out on my next trip.  Once it started to squeal, I put it down and picked up the Phantom X.  Speaking of bass, here are the 2 I caught while using the Spartacus Plus.
The Phantom X did all the heavy lifting on the day as I caught 2 bass in the 6lb class while fishing this reel.  The drag on this reel was perfect with very smooth operations.  As pointed out in the Specs on this reel it is only a 7+1 Bearing reel but you could not tell that from its operations.  It casted smooth as glass and consistently 10-15 feet further than the Spartacus Plus using the same bait.  Its smaller frame fit very nicely in my hand and would make for comfortable fishing all day.  Though the Phantom X is the lighter of the two reels I couldn’t tell much difference from a weight standpoint.  By the time I started fishing with this reel the wind has started to blow pretty good.  The magnetic anti-backlash did a great job even when casting against the wind.  After fishing the oversized cork crank grips Spartacus Plus the grips on the Phantom X felt small to me.  They really aren’t small, but about the average size you will find on reels today.  It really didn’t take too long to get use to using them.  The reel stayed smooth and quiet the whole time I was using it, which was about twice as long as the Spartacus Plus.  Here are pictures of those two 6lb bass I caught on the Phantom X.

Bottom Line:
I’m not going to pass full judgement on the Spartacus Plus until I get it out on the water again after applying some oil to its bearing.  It is not a bad reel for the price, and would likely serve someone that is only fishing weekends very well.  The oversized cork grips on this reel are fantastic, and some of the best feeling I’ve ever used.  However, the Spartacus Plus fell way short of the performance of the Phantom X.  The only thing I don’t like about the Phantom X is that you have to remove the side plate to adjust the magnetic anti-backlash.  Now if you plan to only use the same type and weight of bait this wouldn’t be an issue.  I stated earlier that both of these reels cost me under $50 which is true but I’ve found out that was just an introductory price for the Phantom X.  Its normal price is about $80 so from a price standpoint the Spartacus Plus may be the best reel under $50.  Though it might cost you an extra $30 I really think it is worth the added money for the added performance you get from the Phantom X.  There is also one other thing I should point out about the Phantom X, it is also available in 7.6:1 and 5.3:1 gear ratios.  They have also color coded the different reels so it is easy to tell which gear ratio each have.
In closing I will say that I plan on buying a few more of the Piscifun Phantom X reels.  I know I need a couple in the 5.3:1 gear ratio and at least one in the higher speed 7.6:1 ratio.  To say the least I was impressed by almost everything about this reel. It is not common today to find a fishing reel that cost under $150+ that will perform as well as the Phantom X.  Hope this information will help some of you to decide on your next reel purchase.

Until next time, Tight Lines and Take a Kid Fishing!! 
You can follow me on:
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Also check out the great folks that help make my fishing adventures possible and the tackle I use and trust. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Tournament Fishing Today – My Thoughts

I started out actively fishing tournaments back in the early 80s. There had already been a lot of positive changes on the tournament scene since they started in the 60s. However, compared to the tournament scene of today the 80s, tournaments still seem like the Stone Ages.  Almost all the tournaments in the 80s and all that I fished had Catch and Release programs, where bass had to be weighed in alive and then released after weigh-in.  Though livewells had been incorporated as a standard features in bass boats by the 80s there were still a lot of older boats that didn’t have them.  Most of the folks with those older boats improvised some means to try keeping their bass alive.  Even with the livewells and folks trying hard to keep bass alive you would still see a lot of dead and distressed bass at the weigh-ins.  The biggest single change from the 80s to today is all the improvements made to livewell systems.  Keeping bass alive and healthy became a priority that has continued over the years.  Today the live well systems on boats have such improvements as Recirculate Pumps and Oxygen Systems.  If you don’t want to pay for the expensive Oxygen Systems for your
boat then there are also some great Ventilation Systems available. New Pro Products have the V-T2 vents that I installed in my boat and they do an awesome job at getting fresh oxygen in my livewells while at the same time releasing the potentially deadly gases that build up. With these livewell improvements, today’s bass stand a better than 99% chance of being released healthy after the weigh-in than they did just a few years ago.  Of course there is always a chance of a bass being injured during the catch, which happened to me in my last tournament, and that is an issue hard to control or fix.  If you don’t have an oxygen system or some form of livewell ventilation on your boat I highly recommend you install some V-T2 vents, they are far less costly than installing an oxygen system and will keep your bass just as healthy.

Keeping bass alive and healthy also leads us into the next hot topic I’ve seen on social media and have been asked personally.  That topic is the use of Culling Systems or Cull Tabs.  For those of you that don’t know what these are, they are basically a colored and/or numbered float that is attached to a line, cable or chain with a clip or hook on the other end.  The clip or hook is then attached to a bass’ mouth before you put them in the livewell.  They are used by tournament anglers to keep track of the size/weight of each bass they have caught.  Once the angler gets a limit of bass these tabs make it easy to cull their catch.  When a bass is caught and determined to be bigger than
one in the livewell, the angler can quickly find and remove the smaller bass. Just like with livewells these cull systems have improved over time.  The first ones to come out really caused a lot of damage to the bass’ mouth.  Some of this damage was to the point that the bass was unlikely to survive for very long once released.  I’m happy to report that today there are some cull systems out there designed to not damage the bass’ mouth.  I’ve tried a few of these newer systems and it is true they don’t damage the bass’ mouth but most of them also don’t stay attached to larger bass very well.  The one system I believe that works best and I’m currently using is the Clip N Cull from Cal Coast Fishing.  If you take an extra second to position the clip right in the bass’ mouth and lock it correctly they stay put even on big bass as you can see from the pictures.  The Clip N Cull do not damage the bass’ mouth and their float system makes it very easy to track and find the right bass when it comes time to cull.  

One of the new trends I’ve seen and been asked about is the new Catch, Picture and Release (CPR) tournaments.  These were started mostly by Bank and Kayak fishermen since keeping fish in their tournaments just is not practical as they don’t have a good method of keeping their fish alive.  It also opens up aspects of Online Internet tournaments even for boat fishermen.  I just finished
competing in my first CPR online tournament this past month.  It was the Crème Lures “King of Staff” tournament that was open to all Crème Lures Pro Staff. It was a lot of fun and knowing I was competing against other Pro Staff members from all over the country made it very interesting.  For these CPR tournaments the fish’s length is measured on a bump board and a picture is taken to be submitted to the tournament director. Most online tournaments allow you to fish any body of water of your choosing.  Just like the King of Staff tournament I fished, you can be competing against folks from all over the country.  That is very cool but it opens up all kinds of cheating possibilities as well, another subject that deserves its own paragraph later. I do know that when possible I’ll be fishing more of these online CPR tournaments in the future.

Releasing each bass back very near to where it was caught in all tournaments would be an awesome improvement.  This is especially true when tournaments are held during the spawning season.  It is my opinion that there shouldn’t be any tournaments held during the spawning season.  Why you might ask? All those big bass full of eggs that are about ready to spawn are pulled away from their beds and released sometimes many miles away.  Now I’m not sure exactly what happens after the bass is released, if it survives does it try to return to its original mate and bed or does it look for a new mate and build a new bed in a different location.  In any event it has to be disruptive to their spawning process and potentially damaging to the body of water’s bass population to some extent.   This would especially be true if these fish come from a river system where the fish would have to fight miles of current to get back to their spawning location.  Along these same lines is one of my personal pet peeve in regards to this discussion.  It is when the bass weighed in aren’t returned to body of water they were caught.  You will see this happen a lot when weigh-ins aren’t held at the body of water for some type of advertising or promotional event.  There is also the rare case where a tournament angler makes an extremely long run to fish. 
This happened a couple of years ago when the BASS Elite Series was on the Sabine River.  Pro Mike McClelland ran down the Sabine River to the Inter-coastal Waterway.  He took the Inter-coastal to Galveston Bay and then ran up into Clear Creek Bayou to fish.  This took him a 2 hour boat ride in both directions, but the tactic served him well as he finished 2nd in the tournament.  However all the bass he caught out of Clear Creek Bayou were released into the Sabine River.  Why should I care that this happened? The reason I care is Clear Creek Bayou is one of the systems we fish in the Bayou Bassin’ League.  Now 15 prime bass, likely prime spawners have been removed and transplanted into another body of water.  That just doesn’t set well with me, sorry!

Along the same lines of Fishing Etiquette is posting fishing reports on social media.  I do it a lot as I like to help other folks catch more and bigger fish.  This doesn’t set well with some folks and I’ve recently been attacked on social media for trying to give other folks help.  These people do not want you disclosing any fishing locations or methods as they think they own bodies of water or certain spots on a lake, river or stream.  I have news for those type of people, no one owns any public waters and if someone wants to disclose the location and method they used to catch fish, then more power to them.  There was a time when fellow fishermen helped each other.  Locals provided fishing reports to the newspapers and everyone was friendly on the water.  It is really sad where we have come to in this aspect.

Something else in the realm of etiquette is another trend that seems to be growing and that is cheating in tournaments.  Maybe it isn’t a growing trend and it is more folks are being caught or more reporting of these incidents is more widely spread.  Either way I just don’t understand what drives someone to cheat.  I guess I don’t understand tournament cheaters just like I don’t understand thieves and liars.  I compete in tournaments to see how I fair against other anglers.  Sure it is great to win and get the trophies and prizes but what are they really worth if you have to cheat to get them?  To me they would just be meaningless if I didn’t earn them myself.  I just hope that karma in some way takes care of anyone that cheats and doesn’t get caught.

One more etiquette related subject that seems to be more prevalent or more widely noticed these days is “Smack Talking”.  It might be more widely noticed because everyone so interconnected on social media. There was always some smack talk that happened in groups of friends, clubs and even bigger tournament series.  However it happened in the background and was more in fun than anything else, but in these days you see it happening on social media for all the world to see. I think anyone that fishes tournaments is guilty of a little smack talk from time to time, I know I am but I’m not so sure posting it on social media is a good thing.  For the most part I know it really is no harm meant, but it has led to some heated encounters on the water over the years.  It may also give fans of some fishermen the wrong impression of them as well, especially if that fisherman is doing it on social media. I don’t think it will ever stop, heck I don’t know that I can stop, but I will try very hard not to post any smack talk on social media.

One of the other things I am very pleased to see is the numbers of people now getting involved with tournament fishing.  Heck the level of competition today is 10 times what it was back when I started out.  Even at the local Bass Club level there are a lot of very good fishermen.  Now with High Schools and Colleges having Bass Teams competing, the level of competition is getting higher with each day.  Heck I wish there were Bass Fishing Teams when I was growing up! I tell you no matter the tournament, location or level you are fishing you will be competing against some great fishermen. 

Well there you have it folks, some of my thoughts, opinions and plain ramblings from my many years of tournament fishing.  In closing I hope this has given each of you some food for thought. I also want to wish each of you much luck in your tournament fishing.

Until next time, Tight Lines and Take a Kid Fishing!!
You can follow me on:
Twitter - @BHOAdventures 
FaceBook - Derek Herring Fishing 
National Pro Staff - Derek Herring Fishing

Also check out the great folks that help make my fishing adventures possible and the tackle I use and trust.