Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pride of ownership

As fly fishermen (and women), we tend to somehow reach a stage where the aesthetics of equipment becomes important to us. There is something about releasing a well-earned fish, sitting on the bank and taking it all in while looking at our rig and thinking “What a damn fine sport this is!”

The rich history of fly reel makers is overflowing with little gems. Hardy, Pfluger, Young, Sharps, Abel, etc, etc. Commercial makers have wowed us with winches both big and small; complicated and simple as a spring and pawl. I was lucky enough to view the reel collection at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Vermont a year ago, and just about lost it in a romantic and nostalgic overload while looking at Vom Hoffe, Bogdan, Walker, and early Orvis reels, including the original unfinished CFO prototype designed for Orvis by Stan Bogdan.

These works of mechanical and functional art have been disappearing as manufacturing cost rise, and the consumer tastes change to high tech reels. Some major manufacturers such as Hardy still offer high-end reels such as the new perfect that are still made in England, but the costs of making small batch productions have driven the price up enough that the major players are now competing with the cottage bench-made craftsmen.

Last year I received my first hand-made reel directly from the maker, and right at riverside. William Olson presented me with a long awaited bench-made S-curve salmon reel with gear and pawl drag. My hands shook as I opened the leather reel pouch and looked at a complete beauty. The machining marks were carefully hand polished out of existence, and every surface was lovingly rounded. The extra care he takes and his pride in producing a reel that the owner will cherish was evident in every curve and surface.

Then I turned the crank. This reel does not just click, it barks. The simplicity of the system of gear and pawl and the wide chamber for sound guarantee the owner that he or she will be heard when a fish pulls out line. I got to hear the reel (number 36) sing multiple times last fall when fishing with William, none more memorable though then the last evening of the trip before I had to pack up my gear I hit a nice wild hen steelhead with my full dress Argyle salmon fly and old #36 played out a wild little concerto to send me on my way home.

There is just something about a hand-made item that speaks to us. Human hands touched, designed, formed and finished the piece. It is personal in some way. That makes a difference to some of us.

So, here is a toast to all the craftsmen who, like William, place a bit of their souls in each and every creation.



  1. There is burning pride in the creation of someone who has truly forged their passions into his or her work. You must look closely to find it. That is the eternal gift, and what separates merchandise from wonderful legacies.

  2. Erik,

    Great post! Did you tie the fly sitting on top of the reel? If so, well done my friend.

    Take Care,

  3. Ned,
    Yes. It is the Argyle from baptising the reel. A simple but elegant little married wing.

  4. Do you know if there are any plans for trout sized offerings?

  5. It was great reading it. Looking forward for more of your post.

  6. Erik, this is the exact stage that I'm at! Hence my own custom made Rod and an expensive semi-custom reel!

    It was good to meet you on the river today! Hopefully I'll get to swing a fly with you one of these days!



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