For years I included myself in the large group of fly fishers who think that reels are little more than mechanisms to hold fly line. With my renewed interest in bamboo rods (they seem to be arriving at my door every few days), I’ve also discovered a new-found appreciation for reels – older, vintage models that have angling histories of their own discreetly revealed in lost-era patinas, scratches, dents, and sometimes corrosion acquired over decades of honest use, abuse, and neglects.
The reels in the above photo are a small (very small) sample of my collection. The two at the top have red agate line guides that are beautiful to behold in bright sunlight. The one on the left was made for Williams Robertson Fishing Tackle of Glasgow, Scotland by J.W. Young of Redditch, England way before I was born. The other is a Meisselbach 372 made in this country long ago. In the second row from left are: a wonderfully elegant, utilitarian and inexpensive Ocean City 76 that can hold its own with the fastest of rainbows. The middle reel was made by Bill Ballan of Homosassa, Florida. It is a Midge Heirloom for 1, 2 and 3 weight line is 2 5/8″ in diameter by .500 spool width. 40 yards of 6 lb. backing. Wt. 4.3 oz. The last one is a J.W. Young Valdex notable for its unique (at the time more than a half-century ago) reel release.
In the front row (L to R) are: Allcock Black Knight from Redditch purchased from my dear friend artist and eccentric angler extraordinaire Michael Simon. My wife Ginny uses this reel exclusively. Next is an Hardy Featherweight made in England for Abercrombie & Fitch. This is one of my favorites. It’s had a difficult time with me losing a portion of its frame on the bottom right when a grizzly surprised me (always the master of the understatement) along Swift Creek in the Flathead Valley of northwest Montana twenty-five years back. I dropped the rod in shock and the Hardy bounced off a mid-stream boulder.
The third one is an elegant beauty called “Flyos” made by Ogden & Smiths of London. I use this one for early evening rises of discriminating caddis and mayflies with a Leonard Early Fairy Catskill when I’m feeling refined, admittedly a rarity. The last reel is an Ari Hart Traun F1. I have others by Ari but this is my favorite. One of his unique designs is displayed in the Museum of Modern Art. They are as functional as they are beautiful. Even a cheap Ari Hart is expensive.
I realize that all of this is completely out of control, but I’ve never been hip to moderation in anything. Not ever. Benign madness is my dear friend.