Discover A Brief History Of Shimano Fishing Reels

Photo of an illuminated blue and white Shimano brand name sign on a black wall.
The Shimano fishing brand is without question one of the leaders in the fishing market. From fishing rods, to reels all the way to lures, it feels like the brand has ruled the industry forever. Yet, many anglers don’t know the history of the Shimano reels.

It may come as a surprise, but Shimano only started designing fishing reels in the 1970’s. While around 50 years sounds like a long time, people have been fishing for hundred of years.

To give you a glimpse into this amazing brand, I am going to start from the beginning. By articles end you will have a concise understanding of how Shimano became a fishing leader.

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Table of Contents

History Of Shimano Fishing Reels: The Beginning

It all started in 1921, with a man named Shozoburo Shimano. He decided to create the “Shimano Iron Works Company” in Sakai City, Japan. At this time, Shimano started to manufacture bicycle parts, such as single free-wheels. Followed in 1956 by making their first derailleurs. The next year came internal three-speed hubs. Also in 1957 the R&D team begins to research “cold-forging” a technology the brand still uses today. This year, Shimano decides to change name of the company. From Shimano Iron Works to Shimano Industrial Company.

Unfortunately in September 1958, Shozoburo Shimano passes away. Continuing the family legacy, Shozo Shimano is next to take over. For his 34-year tenure, he grew the company to be the world’s largest bike parts manufacturer.

With Shimano Asia excelling in the bicycle parts industry, it was time to expand into the USA. In 1961 the company established “Shimano American Corporation” in New York City. With the first president of the USA branch being Yoshizo Shimano.

Fishing Tackle Division Of Shimano

Until 1969, Shimano focused only on the bicycle market. For good reason, they were and still are experts at engineering the best bicycle parts. But when 1970 begins, they diversify and launch the Shimano Fishing Tackle Division. The purpose being to promote public health via outdoor activities.

Before Shimano starts building fishing reels in-house, they collaborate with Lew Childre. Together they create the Lew’s #BB2 for the American market. The reel was a success and proved to Shimano that they should be creating their own fishing reels. They wasted no time in making their own designs in-house.

Shimano Launches Their First Spinning Reel

As a result of going in-house, in 1971 they created the DUX series of spinning reels for Japan. Next in 1972, they launched the DUX AUTO series. Featuring an innovative automatic gear change function every time you hooked a fish.

photo of a vintage blue and tarnished silver Shimano Dux fishing reel on wood table

Later in 1972-1973 Shimano expands to Europe and Singapore.

The First Baitcasting Reel From Shimano

After many years they created another first, a non-circular low-profile design reel. The year was 1977, and they called it the Shimano Bantam 100 reel. This was an ultra-lightweight precision baitcasting reel targeted at American bass fishermen.

US fishing enthusiasts loved it due to its engineering, robustness, and modern design. As the 1970s are about to end, Shimano America moves operations to New Jersey.

In 1981 the Shimano design team takes another leap into the future. This year they created a computer-controlled boat reel. It was large in your palm because it had a microcomputer inside. This computer would release the line to a predetermined water depth.

The first known American market Shimano spinning reel came in 1983, called the BB-X reel. This was a plastic bodied, lightweight freshwater fishing reel. In the following year Shimano created the “Shimano Japan Cup.” Which is a fishing competition to further promote enjoyment for fishing. This same year Shimano expands into Canada.

New Reel Materials

By the mid 1980s Shimano recognized the need for stiff and lightweight reel construction. The research and development team at the time was eager to introduce new materials. A new material came in 1985 for the TITANOS series of Japanese reels. The material was a carbon fiber with potassium whisker reinforcements.

First Fishing Gear Division: Nexus

Leading into the late 1980s Shimano noticed that anglers enjoyed matching their tackle with their clothing. As a result, they start Nexus fishing gear as a separate division of the company.

Initial Shimano Fishing Rods

Shimano next enters the fishing rod market in 1981 with X-rod series of fishing rods. For 1983, they updated the X-rod series with the “Hi-Power X”. Shimano developed this brand-new rod structure to increase twist resistance.

Following in 1988, in a quest for versatility Shimano created the “telescopic mechanism”. This enabled the extension of rod length or to shorten the rod at the end of the day. As a result, anglers had easy storage and could choose a custom length for their rods. Rod developments continued for many years.

Bantam Scorpion Baitcasting Reel

As the European market grows, Shimano decides to further expand in 1988 to create Shimano UK Fishing Ltd.

The year 1991 saw the release of Bantam Scorpion. This baitcasting reel began the first inception of color matching of rod and reel. At the same time, the company combined the tackle and fishing divisions together.

Next introduced in 1992 is the first version of the Shimano “Stella” Spin reel. Released at the same time was the Shimano Balance Lock (SBL). SBL became known as the “dyna balance.” The SBL was a counter balance feature to reduce spool wobble during retrieve.

Stella Spinning Reel

In 1991, the Stella series becomes the brands leading fishing reel range.

For 1993 the design team introduced the Shimano Variable Brake System or SVS. This was an innovation in brake system technology. Found in the brands’ baitcasting reels. It enabled fine-tuning of centrifugal brakes by the angler depending on the situation.

The Stella range is further developed in 1995 and introduces the first “SHIP” system. This is a high-performance gear system combined with improved body rigidity. The SHIP or “Smooth and Hi-Power System” improved reeling a lot.

Three years later the brand develops the Ocea Jigger Reel. Its purpose is to expand the jigging style of fishing.

A while later in 2003 saw the introduction of the “digital controlled brake system.” Used in baitcasting reels this electronic brake control further enhanced anglers fishing efficiency.

Introducing AR-C Spool & MicroModule

The next major spec enhancement for spinning reels came in 2007. With the introduction of the AR-C spool, a cold-forged aluminum spool with a special lip design. This helped to increase casting distance and reduced line problems.

By the time 2012 began Shimano had a firm grip on the fishing product market. Being constant innovators they brought another amazing innovation, the MicroModule gear system. Featuring precise shaped gear teeth, to deliver smooth reeling and excellent power transmission.

Industry Leading Innovations

Over time the fishing division introduced brilliant innovations including the following specs:

  • Super Slow Oscillation. This a system to slow down reel movement to increase casting distance.
  • Titanium coated guard fins.
  • AR-C spool. Increases the casting distance by controlling the spool unwinding resistance.
  • Shielded Anti-Rust Bearings (S A-RB). Prevents corrosion of the bearings especially in saltwater.
  • X-SHIP gear system. Its purpose is to achieve ultimate rotation performance.
  • The Stainless steel one-piece bail, to take advantage of thin bails.
  • Micro-Module Gear Technology. A special gear design that refines the teeth on each gear. It results in a reduction of oscillation vibration.

Shimano Hagane Concept & Micro Module II

Around 2015 Shimano launched its “Hagane” gearing concept. This is a precision cold-forged “Hagane Gear.” By cold-forging the metal Shimano made a gear that is strong, precise and very durable. As a result, the high quality Hagane gear reduces distortion and flex during reeling. As well, it can protect the inside of the reel from unexpected impact.

The final innovation to mention for spin reels is the “Micro Module II” introduced in 2018. This is a set of gearing with unique teeth and surface design. Combined with the Hagane gearing Shimano delivers incredible reeling smoothness and durability.

Shimano Fishing Reels In 2023

From 1970 to now, Shimano has given the fishing world spectacular refinements for all their reels. Including the newer X-concepts like X-Shield and X-Protect or power braking like I-DC4. Spinning enthusiasts rave about the MGL rotor and Silent Drive. What isn’t there to like about a company is relentless in introducing new advancements.

In fact, Shimano fishing has made over 100 types of reels. With over 76 current series (with many models in each series). Shimano ensures superior quality reels for using in freshwater, saltwater or both. With so much thought and care put into their products, it makes sense that anglers trust Shimano.

Finishing up:

By now you have a good idea of who Shimano are and what they have accomplished. It isn’t hard to imagine that a company built on precise engineering and bold ideas will continue to lead the fishing industry. Whether you want a baitcasting, spinning or other reel type, a Shimano will deliver success.

As we live through 2023, Outdoors Informed can’t wait to see what Shimano thinks up next.


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