ANCIENT REELS REBORN


REELS CIRCA LATE 40’S TO SIXTIES

ZEBCO AND SHAKESPEARE STILL IN BUSINESS


Shakespeare MODEL 1837 TRU-ART Automatic


THE LEVEL-WIND MECHANISM CHANGED IT ALL

A history of US Bait-casting reels  February 23, 2001 by By David Turnbull

Change was on the horizon at the turning of the century as  fishing rods shrunk into the new 5-foot bamboo models and as Dowagiac minnows and Kalamazoo casting or overhead casting became popular. This was the end of the Kentucky reel makers and their finely tuned and crafted reels, and the beginning of modern bait casting. The long rods of slender wood left the stage. The few remaining original Kentucky reels perform as smooth as they did when they were created more than 100 years ago. They are a credit

to the craftsmen who produced these jewels of the sport of fishing with only a few fine tools. The next changes to the already improved Snyder and Meek reels came from the Midwest, but they, like the other Kentucky reels made by Sage, Talbot, Noel and Gayle, were soon forgotten because of dramatic events that brought a new improvement to transform and remain with the bait-casting reel to today the level wind mechanism.

One of drawbacks with the early reels was the unkindly and sinister act of the line to backup on the spool what is commonly known by many frustrated fisherman as a “backlash” and a variety of other well-chosen adjectives. Without the aid of a mechanism to wind the line on the spool evenly, everything was done by hand, or without the aid of the left or right one sometimes, and backlashes were the most dreaded part of using the early reels. When you had a mess, you really had one. Adding a wet, persnickety silk line to the fray did not help, either.

The inventor who solved the problem of level winding was William Shakespeare, Jr., who created a complicated leveling mechanism on a jeweler’s lathe and obtained his patent in 1896. The problem of winding line on a spool finally was mastered and the Shakespeare

Wondereel won the acclaim of many fishermen. Perhaps no other company or single invention affected the popularity of bait casting more than Shakespeare. Though Shakespeare invented the first mechanism and level-wind reel, his company in 1907 acquired the rights to the 1907 patent of Walter Marhoff a far simpler design that would be the foundation of level-wind reels for many years to come. Shakespeare made and added the Marhoff brand to its line. Shakespeare again affected and changed the fishing world by inventing the Wonderod, the first rod made from a new material called fiberglass. The creation of the Wonderod was a staggering cost of $1 million.

Mass production was also making inroads and, with it, fishing products became more accessible to a greater part of the public. Another company worth mentioning is the Andrew B. Hendryx Co. From 1887 to 1911, this company produced an unequaled amount of reels and was later acquired by Winchester. Hendryx invented several improvements that also changed the bait-casting reel. He devised a method of constructing reel spools, spool bearings and no matter who lays claim to inventing the first commercial automatic clutch for a free spooling reel, it was invented by Andrew Hendryx. The Hendryx reels were also the first commercially mass-produced stamped brass reels that were very successful. The diverse Pflueger family was also involved in fishing reels.

Pflueger competed with Shakespeare in the low-priced and average-priced reels and later introduce such models as the Rocket, the Supreme, the Nobby and others. Pflueger was also noted like Heddon and others for its line of tackle and baits used for muskie, bass, and northern fishing. It is with the former that many legends grew about the Pflueger Supreme, determined muskies, and northern Wisconsin waters.

Like so many favorites like Bronson (they claimed to be the world’s largest manufacturer of reels and sold their reels in Sears and Wards), Ocean City, Penn, and others, many people combined their skills and talents and offered their reels to the public. All of them are as noteworthy as the next, with all of their work reflecting back to the early reel makers and the files of watchmakers.

While fly fishing for steelhead on the Skykomish River not far from my home at the base of Index Mountain in Washington State, a retired and aged fisherman introduced me to one the finest reels ever made, an Edward Vom Hofe. The reel was built in the late 1920s and performed like no others in the 1990s. It was crisp, clear, smooth, and it literally taught both the rod and fisherman a lesson in balance. It was a pleasure to frequently fish with one of the fathers of steelhead fly fishing and to use such a perfect reel, gracing a fine bamboo rod that lofted large spey patterns across the turbid waters of the Sky. Vom Hofe also made some of the finest bait-casting reels and larger saltwater reels all with jeweled precision. True Temper Tackle later acquired the company and gathered its share of the market for many years after the war effort had past.

The only challenge to the backlash-prone bait-casting reel came from a man in Perth, Scotland, one Peter Malloch, who in 1884 created the first spinning reel. Malloch took his idea, no doubt, from the spinning spindles of wool manufacturing. After Illingworth of England improved it and got his patent, Hardy Brothers in England and Pezon-Michel in France made most of the final design improvements. The first spinning reel, the “Luxor” was introduced in 1935. Field & Stream was the first outdoor magazine to promote the reel. The dynamics of taking line from a spool saw its best answer in the spinning reel. It was not until after World Ward II that spinning reels generally were accepted in America. The spinning reel made fishing more accessible and inviting for many people.

Today, bait-casting reels are well designed and made from a variety of polymers and metals, shaped into space-age designs with dramatic changes in gear ratios, spool diameters and lengths. Machining and molds have replaced the work of lamp, solitude and file. Global competitors have introduced improvements from ball bearings to larger line capacities, and with the added materials of graphite for fishing rods and Kevlar for fishing lines, the reel had to adapt to the faster line speeds that are generated from faster actions and stronger rods. Now, reels must be faster and stronger for the bigger fish targeted by many fishermen. We are casting farther and cranking faster.

It is to the credit of fishermen now gone who deftly challenged a muskie or a northern with only a small Meek, or even the first Pflueger reels, mounted on bamboo or steel rods and holding only a fragile, braided silk line. It was much more akin to hand-to-hand combat with a broad stroke of luck added.

As another season sleeps beneath the winter snow, the old Pflueger Supreme waits patiently in the garage for its next meeting with a muskie just as the old reel has ever since it has passed from one hand to the next, complete with its ability to provide the best backlashes in the entire world. Meanwhile, a Hardy Perfect has some plans for the steelhead and salmon in the Great Lakes in the coming season.

No matter how you use a bait-caster, the problem still awaits the caster as soon as the lure is hurled through the air, due to simple mechanics of resistance and inertia. As this fishing season draws closer, get ready for a turbid boil next to the boat and a sudden wake following the lure. Remember to keep a thumb on the spool.


SHAKESPEARE TRU-ART AUTOMATIC FLY FISHING REEL

The Shakespeare Company was founded by William Shakespeare Jr. in 1897, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 1970 the company moved to Columbia, South Carolina.  Shakespeare is known for a number of fishing tackle and equipment products, including their very popular Ugly Stik fishing rod, first introduced in 1976 and still in production today.

The Shakespeare Silent Automatic Tru-Art fly fishing reel is a relic from the 1960s. Automatic fly reel use peaked during that era. These days most anglers prefer single action, manual fly reels. But during the age of the 1960s space race and burgeoning technological advancements, the automatic reel was seen as very modern and cool.

It operates on a spring-driven mechanism. The spring is wound as line is pulled out of the reel, and is recovered by pressing a trigger, not unlike an automatic tape measure retrieve. These kinds of reels aren't heavily manufactured today, but a couple of companies still make them.

They're good for anglers with hand and arm mobility issues, who may have trouble controlling the line manually. In fact, automatic fly reels have been used by Project Healing Waters, an organization that uses fly fishing as a healing and rehabilitation method for disabled veterans.

If you're a fly fisherman it might be fun to play around with one of these relics from time to time. You can still find them online or occasionally at garage sales for cheap prices.



ZEBCO

Founded at Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1949, Zebco is a major manufacturer of fishing equipment. It began with the invention of backlash-free fishing reel by a Rotan, Texas, watchmaker and itinerant inventor named Jasper R. Dell Hull, who was better known as R. D. Hull. 

After struggling to find a company to manufacture and to market his invention, Hull finally approached the Zero Hour Bomb Company of Tulsa for assistance. In business since 1932 manufacturing electric time bombs used in fracturing oil-well formations, the Zero Hour Bomb Company was experiencing the difficulties common to a single-product company in a shrinking market. 

They partnered with Hull and produced their first reel, called the Standard, in May 1949. Soon afterward, through regional marketing under the name Zebco the product became so popular that in January 1956 the company changed its name to Zebco and ceased to produce oil-field related materials. 

Through the introduction of a series of new models featuring high quality at reasonable prices the company continued to expand until 1961, at which time it merged with the Brunswick Corporation. 

Afterward, they acquired several smaller firms, expanded their national presence, and became involved in international marketing of their growing line of fishing equipment. Hull remained with the firm's production department. He designed twenty-six reels and received thirty-five patents before his May 1977 retirement, soon followed by his death in December of that same year. 

In 2001 the W. C. Bradley Company bought Zebco from Brunswick, but in the early years of the twenty-first century the headquarters of the nation's best-known fishing gear manufacturer remained in Tulsa, Oklahoma.