The Ambassadeur baitcasting reel has played and continues to play a large part in the story of Kenai River salmon fishing.
In 1921, Carl Borgstrom, a craftsman who learned his trade in a watchmaking factory, bought the factory and founded AB Urfabriken (ABU) in Svangta, Sweden. His factory made pocket watches, telephone timers and taxi meters.
When Carl died in 1934, and his son, Gote Borgstrom, took over. With the advent of World War II, the demand for taxi meters fell off. Gote, a fishing enthusiast who knew how to make precision equipment and had the tools to do it, decided to make precision fishing reels.
In 1940, fishing reels lacked several features that anglers take for granted today. There were no anti-backlash mechanisms, and the only way to stop a fish from running was the thumb. Gote figured anglers would buy a reel that would make fishing less frustrating, more successful and more fun. He figured right.
ABU introduced its first reel, the Record 1500, in 1941. A simple reel by today’s standards, it was state-of-the art at the time. It had a level-wind mechanism and a “clicker.” An adjustable cap on the end of the spool shaft, a “mechanical drag,” was later added to help prevent backlashes.
The reels made by ABU in the early 1940s had brass spools. To reduce weight, spools of later models were made of aluminum. The lighter spools reduced the fly-wheel effect that made casting light lures difficult and back-lashes inevitable. The spool arbors (shafts) turned in jewels — some of them genuine ruby — that were set in the end caps.
Starting in 1945, ABU produced the revolutionary Record 2100, the first reel with a centrifugal-braking, anti-backlash system. Another new addition was a free-spool button, with automatic re-engagement of the spool upon retrieve. The 2100 also had an automatic anti-reverse mechanism that prevented the crank from turning backward when a fish was taking line.
But the 2100 didn’t quite have everything. At the time, designers didn’t consider it feasible to include level-wind with the free-spool and braking systems features. Incorporating all these features into one reel remained for the Ambassadeur to do.
European anglers were introduced to the Ambassadeur in 1952, and the first ones imported to the United States debuted in 1954, at the New York World’s Fair. The red-anodized reel, glowing elegantly in a leather case, took the baitcasting world by storm. Everyone who saw it wanted one. They sold like hotcakes.
In ABU’s “Tight Lines 1962” catalogue:
“Never has any other reel attained such a high degree of ingenious design, engineering perfection and precision manufacturing. No wonder the Ambassadeur is the most desired, most wanted bait-casting reel in the world.
“It is the only reel that combines a free-spool with a level wind and an anti-backlash centrifugal brake! This guarantees effortless, record distance casts — without backlash — even against the wind!
“And — there are even more exclusive features. Supersmooth, powerful Star-Drag adjusts down to take lightest monofilament lines. Brake with reminder scale adjusts for baits of any weight. Self centering spool bearings. End plate line guards. Anodized, corrosionproof finish.”
Since its introduction the Ambassadeur has undergone more than two dozen modifications. The Ambassadeur 5000 has had a fantastic production run, the longest of any level-wind reel made: 60 years, and more than 4 million reels. The developments incorporated in this reel can be found in every other reel on the market today.
Gote Borgstrom died in 1974, and his son, Lennart, took over the business. In 1978, ABU became the sole owner of the Garcia fishing tackle company, and became Abu Garcia. In 1981, ABU became the property of the first of what would become a string of conglomerates. Since 2000, it’s been owned by Pure Fishing, which also owns Berkley, Mitchell, Johnson, Fenwick, Spiderwire and Stren, to name a few. Pure Fishing is now a subsidiary of Jarden, Inc., yet another conglomerate.
Surprisingly, despite all the changes in ownership, Ambassadeur reels are still in made Sweden. Not surprisingly, they’re still in use by many salmon fishermen on the Kenai River. May it forever be so.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.