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The History of Fishing Reels
The History of Fishing Reels

Fishing Reel History

The modern day spinning reel is the most used reel in America. Bait casting, fly and spinning reels have come a long way over the years. There are a multitude of reels for every kind of fishing possible. You name the type of fish and there is a specific reel to catch it.

In 1651, English literature first reported a “wind” installed within two feet of the lower end of the rod. This is usually accepted as the earliest known written reference to a reel. Angling historians have been frustrated in trying to trace the history of the fishing reel. However, there are examples of Oriental paintings that depict Chinese fishermen using reels of various sizes that date to the twelfth century.

Until the 1800’s the reel was used primarily as a storage device for excess line. However, in the 19th century there was a rapid development of the multiplying reel, which allowed reels to evolve into casting devices. Although multiplying reels were probably invented in Great Britain, the reels of George Snyder, of Paris, Kentucky, have become the most famous 19th century multipliers. Snyder’s reels were developed in the 1820s, and became the basis of the “Kentucky Reels”. George Snyder is generally given credit for inventing the first fishing reel in America around 1820, a bait casting design that quickly became popular with American anglers.

Most of these reels were made by trained jewelers that had experience cutting gears and producing precision lathe work. Copies of these hand-made reels were soon available from mass-production assembly lines from the major producers at a fraction of the price of a hand-fitted reel. This stimulated the sale of multiplying reels and increased the popularity of “bait casting”.

During the middle of the 19th century multiplying reels were also being developed in New York City and other locations in the northeastern U.S. The “New York” reel was usually a brass or nickel-silver reel with a serpentine crank or a “ball-handle”. The New York reel was generally larger and heavier than the Kentucky reel, and more often used for trolling, rather than casting, a lure or bait.

Multipliers were not the only reels being developed by American craftsmen at this time. We had wonderful inventions and improvements in fly reels by Orvis, Leonard, the Vom Hofes, Malleson, and many others. In 1880 the first successful automatic reel was perfected by Francis Loomis. Some of the reels developed in the late 1800s by these craftsmen are avidly sought by collectors today.

In the late 1800s there were developments in reels used for tarpon and other big game fish. Anglers from around the world discovered the abundant salt water game fish in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, and reels and drag mechanisms were developed in response to the demand created by these new interests.

The industrial revolution affected fishing reel manufacturing as new companies opened to mass-produce reels of various qualities. The early 1900s saw tremendous growth in all facets of reel production as such companies as Shakespeare, Montague and Pflueger produced relatively low-priced, high-quality reels. They were joined before the Great Depression by others, including Bronson, Ocean City, and South Bend.

“Spinning” or fixed spool reels have been produced for over a century, with the first patented reel coming from this country - the Winans & Whistler. Fishing with fixed spool reels became very popular in England and Europe, but it took Bache Brown and his Luxor Mastereel to bring the method to the American fisherman during the late 1930s. After the war spinning reel importation and production in the US increased rapidly, and spinning became one of the most popular techniques used by American fishermen.
Whether you fish with a bait caster, spinning or fly reel, it is evident that the evolution of reels has made great strides.

Thanks to the Old Reel Collectors Association for the reel history info.


Capt. gary Burch

Email Guide or Angler: captgary@allcatchcharters.com

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