Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hardy Reel blathering

A gear review.

Reading the poll results of this blog, it becomes apparent that some readers desire some gear reviews. Well, you asked for it;)

My Hardy reels are treasured but also used. After all, why not use the good china?
Being an aficionado of classic things from the past, it is not surprising that when I took up fly-fishing I would be drawn to Hardy reels. For the first year I drooled at them from a distance. Then after a tax return, I bid on a Marquis Disc on Ebay, and by a miracle, won it for $100.00. I guess nobody wants these reels because they have a disc drag and not click and pawl, but I was in heaven nonetheless. I think I slept with it for the first week. (kidding)

One thing was apparent right away. Aesthetically, Hardy designed a beautiful but subtle reel. It was not flashy, the anodizing was not in Timothy Leary colors, and all the surfaces were well rounded. The sound even for a single pawl disc was loud, and the tolerances were fine indeed. Thus began the love affair with classic English-made Hardy reels. Note that I defined this a bit. I don’t like the newer modern Hardy reels. They look like an engineer’s fantasy project, full of over-intricate details that are incongruous with each other. Look at the Angel for example. The other aspect of the modern reels from Hardy that bothers me is the move to Asia for much of the production. The quality has not suffered at all. After all, the Koreans are just as capable of producing a quality piece of CNC machined metal as anyone else, and better than most. The problem I have is with the concept of an English tradition ending. If I want to drive a Jaguar or shoot a British double gun, I don’t want to see a sticker on the bottom telling me it was made overseas. Part of the owning and using of a traditional reel is the continuance of the tradition itself. Knowing that a Harris Tweed cap was hand-loomed in the isle of Lewis makes me proud to wear it. Knowing that Charlie Norris designed and supervised the production of my Bougle’ adds a special touch.

As you can see in the picture, I own quite a selection of the Bougle’ Mk IV. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. If I knew then what I know now, I would have bought even more. These things work like a jeweled Swiss watch. They are weighted appropriately to balance a rod, not too light as many modern reels. The spitfire finish and champagne check screw and spindle covers are set off nicely. The drag is what you can expect from a Hardy; just enough to keep the reel from back-spooling. The reel handle is a dark resin impregnated wood. The first reel handles must not have been impregnated or were a botched job, and they swelled. Hardy quickly addressed the problem. The line guard turns allowing the line to run out without scarring and with reduced friction. When connected to a steelhead downshifting into gear and running for the ocean, this thing wails and screams like the coming of the Valkyries. The lack of a counterweight causes it to wobble as well. The back-plate allows one to “thumb it” for additional drag control, as there is no rim on this reel. It is an easy thing to accomplish once one trains oneself to reach for the backplate and not stick your hand anywhere near the handle. (ouch!)

Bougle’ Mk IV Likes: Pretty much everything. Love fishing with it, love the sound, and the looks.

Dislikes: It is a little bright. The only major problem I have is the softness of the nickel silver center screw that holds the reel together. I have had one fall off on me and have broken one while absent-mindedly trying to take it apart using the incorrect turn of the screwdriver.

Second of the Bougle’ series was the Mk V.
I call this the Bougle’ light. Hardy really blew it here. They seemed to give too much credence to the complaints of anglers that the Mk IV Bougle’ was too heavy, and thus they ported the spool. This causes the reel to not quite balance many two-handed rods, and dramatically reduces the sound and tone quality of the click. It sounds ‘tinny’. They also added a champagne and British racing green color scheme. I really liked this reel at first, and it became my favorite for awhile, but something had dramatically gone wrong at Hardy as far as quality control and overall care between the production of the Mk IV and the MK V series. The line guard would not turn freely, so I unscrewed it. It broke at the head of the screw. I am not a careless guy. I got a replacement from Hardy, and it still does not turn freely. On a fishing trip to the Kooskooskee, I hooked a steelhead, and went to reel it in after a short run. No handle?!! It had fallen off either during the run of the fish, or just before. I wound the fish in using my finger in one of the portholes while my fishing partner laughed his rear off. I had this strange sort of half frown and stupid look on my face. Needless to say, this reel got retired for the trip, and the Mk IV got the nod and performed flawlessly. When I got home I ordered a new handle and went to install it. That is when I noticed something rattling around inside. The small screw that prevents the pawl from getting cocked had fallen out. I disassembled the entire reel and applied lock-tite to all the parts. Problem solved, but it made me lose trust in Hardy.
The Mk VI Bougle’ is in essence a Mk V with the paint removed, and a massive price hike.

I wish I owned some perfects. Perhaps they are in my future, but the larger 3 ¾ and 4” sizes are priced so high they make me break out in laughter. I have had the opportunity to clean and restore a set of ten or twelve perfects for a local angler, so I know them inside and out, so to speak. They are still the finest reel ever made in large production numbers in my humble opinion.

Like any other company, Hardy put out some garbage during the 1970s. The Marquis multiplier is a good example of this. A great working reel when it actually works, it sports some internal parts made of plastic, screws to major parts like the handle made of soft metal, and the fit is just not worthy of a Hardy. I repaired one for a customer every year, and had fun trying to locate parts.
Another goof was adding the castle logo to the outside of their fine reels, but making the logo out of plastic.
This reminds me of what Winchester did to the venerable Model 70 after 1964 and during the 70s. They replaced metal parts with plastic, substituted a new bolt in place of the long-claw controlled feed extractor which made the Mauser model 98-like action of the model 70 a choice of target shooting competitors everywhere, and instead of hand or even machine checkering, simply burned the checkering in! They must have listened to a “business consultant’ ;)

The reel that is my workhorse is the Marquis Salmon # 2.
Both the reel and spare spool came from British Columbia, so they have a bit of tradition and legacy burned in.
I engage both pawls, and thus it has a more powerful drag than the Bougle’ series. It is bomb proof in construction with little to go wrong. It was built on the K.I.S.S. principle of engineering. The sound is loud and proud. I baptized the reel with a small wild steelhead caught on a bomber. The resulting aria is still echoing in that canyon. I like the gray spools, not the silver ones for some reason. Go figure. Like most Hardy reels, the drag adjuster could be a little bigger and more ergonomically designed. In cold water it stings and cuts, but then again, it is best to just crank it to full and leave it there for the day.

So, in conclusion, I think that long after the current wave of red, blue, or even pink over-sculpted reels with plastic drag systems have fallen out of favor, or evolved into abstract sculpture, the venerable Hardy reels will still be heard in the hands of anglers that care. Anglers to whom fly-fishing is not just the next generation-X adrenaline sport. Anglers who may appreciate that RHB and Wulff used these reels along with Walt Johnson. Even Charles Windsor the current Prince of Wales received a matching set of perfects as a gift from Hardy. I wonder if those will go into the royal regalia in the tower, or whether I could ever catch them at a rummage sale…..

1 comment:

  1. Great Blog Erik! I will certainly link it on my own.
    You are an excellent fly tyer also.
    We had a rough December, weather wise, here in the Pacific Northwest but I hope to be swinging for steelhead soon.
    I have a few Hardy reels myself and of course they are the one made in the UK. I cannot express the disappointment I felt when Hardy, the undisputed hallmark in fly fishing tradition, decided to "outsource"


Comments by interested readers are welcome. Back links to non-topical (spam) websites will be treated as spam and deleted.