What Reel Do We Use with that Bamboo Rod?

The frame from the Hardy  Featherweight.
Late model single screw line guard  from hardy Featherweight.
1960s 2 screw line guard for Hardy reel
On the left is a Hardy post -1976 Perfect and on the  right a pre-1966 Perfect.
A beautiful EX/EX+ Hardy 3  3/8
Pflueger 1492. Note the sculpted pillar on the top.

Pflueger. Note the cream color spool release tab in the center it says made in U.S.A.

In a previous article. I talked about fishing with bamboo fly rods and I explained a little about length versus value. Now, with that in mind, I want to talk about some reels that would be appropriate.

There are a lot of them out there to choose to use with vintage gear and prices are all over the place. Some will use contemporary reels made in the tradition of the classics, but most true cane users like to match a vintage rod with a vintage reel. Furthermore there are favorites within the different price brackets. As I talked about in the cane article, usability trumps rarity. As for reels, there are some very expensive ones out there, but most people will not use those true rarities on their rod. The reel usually takes a heavier beating than the rod and would have a tendency to look “worse for wear” and thus the value will plummet.

A couple manufacturers stand out universally: fly reels from the House of Hardy, a British manufacturer from “across the pond” and Pflueger, an American manufacturer.

Again, I want to talk about these reels paired with rods from the golden age,the late 1920’s to the early 1970’s. Furthermore, I will narrow it down to trout fishing because the value also lies with trout rods over most every other style of rod.

Hardy and Pflueger favorites

Both of these companies made many different fly reels, especially Hardy, but there are some definite fan favorites for use with a fly rod. When I said that with bamboo the shorter the rod, the more valuable, well with fly reels, it’s mainly all about scarcity and condition, though size still has some bearing on value.

William Hardy created Hardy Bros in 1872 in Alnwick, England and one year later his brother John James Hardy joined the company and thus an empire was born. Until recently, Hardy seems almost always to have been referred to as the “Rolls Royce” of fishing equipment and the favorite of royalty, as well as the wealthy and the powerful.

Modern fly-fishing began with the British and (I believe) was “fine tuned” in those formative years of the late 19th and early 20th century by the House of Hardy. They have a mystique that still endures, even though time has a way of changing everything.

German immigrant, Ernest F. Pflueger created the Enterprise Manufacturing Company in Akron, Ohio in 1881, (another family business). The most popular of their products offered was the Pflueger brand. Enterprise Mfg. began to acquire company after company and was a major force in the early 20th Century tackle business. They believed in putting out a quality product that performed perfectly. Some time in the beginning of the 1950’s Enterprise officially changed their name to Pflueger.

There have been and still are some terrific manufacturers of fly reels and some of these are more valuable than some Hardy’s rods. On the other hand, there are some great producers of the mid-range affordable reels other than Pfluegers. I just think these two companies offer the largest basis of mass popularity in their arenas. With that in mind, I want to narrow it down to those reels from each of these two companies that I feel offer the most collectable/usable appeal for bamboo.

Hardy’s reels: The basics

Let’s start with Hardy. The most popular reel from Hardy over the last 100 years or more has been the model Perfect and it came in a wide range of sizes. Even though this reel went into production around 1890, I am not even going to discuss those exceedingly expensive and rare early reels. There were numerous changes in this series and the most usable of these reels began production in the early 1920s with the more reasonable in price being reels made from the early 1950s through 1995.

The Perfect was discontinued in 1966 and then resurrected in 1976. These post-1976 reels are easy to spot because the side that contains the handle is raised in the center and not flat like earlier models. Early reels were blued, like with gun barrels, and later models were enameled or “painted.” I am guessing that the enameled reels probably began after WWII or very early in the 50’s.

The blued reels have great patina and wear evenly for the most part. Unfortunately, the “painted” reels scratch easier. Generally speaking, blued reels are worth more than “painted” reels and post-1976 reels are worth less than pre-1967 reels. Smaller reels are more desirable then larger reels, except that super large perfect are in demand today for two handed casting rods (Long rods well over 10’ which need a large capacity reel).

So not to drive anyone nuts over all the possible sizes and varieties that were produced by Hardy in this series, I am going to make some general statements. Hardy Reels after WWII are found in larger numbers and better shape than before 1939 and are the main reels we are focusing on. These reels will be more reasonable in price as well.

After 1948, Hardy reduced the sizes available and among the sizes produced the 2 7/8’, 3 1/8” and 3 3/8,” are extremely popular with shorter bamboo rods that are for fly lines of 5wt and lighter. When Hardy re-introduced the Perfects in 1976, they only came in three sizes, 3 1/8, 3 3/8 and 3 5/8, and were manufactured until around 1995. They are not as popular and sell for less money than the pre 1967 models. The model Perfects are not a light reel, but are extremely smooth due to the use of a ball bearing. The reel comes in three parts, the frame with a ball bearing, the spool (drum) and a handle plate. The spool fits in the frame and the handle plate then screws into the frame from the opposite side of the spool so that it stays connected.

Among the more popular series of Hardy fly reels to use with bamboo reels is the post WWII Lightweight series which was introduced between 1951 and 1958, and consisting mainly of the Flyweight (1-3wt fly line-2 ½”), Featherweight (4-5wt- 2 7/8”), LRH Lightweight (5-6weight- 3 3/16”), and Princess (6-7weight- 3 ½”). Again as with the larger Perfects, there are larger models with this series that have some popularity, but are not practical and aren’t balanced with bamboo rods of 9’ and shorter.

This Lightweight series of reels is easily changed from left hand retrieve to right hand retrieve by switching the metal line guard from the frame to the opposite direction and then flipping the pawls that sit under the spool on the frame 180 degrees. For many modern collectors this series is a more practical and a lighter series to use with shorter bamboo rods and is growing in popularity.

An easy way to tell the 60s made reels from later versions is that the earlier reels came with a two-screw nickel silver line guide rather than a single screw chromed line guide. Earlier reels command a premium. Lightweights are also more economical than many Perfects. The three smaller reels are still in production and are the most desirable sizes. But beginning some time this year, they will no longer be made in England. This fact should increase value on these British-made reels over the years.

Pflueger reels: The basics

As far as I am concerned, the Pflueger Medalist series is the “working man’s” reel. Built strong and reasonably priced, it has survived since the late 20’s. In the beginning they had three series of reels, a 13XX(right handed retrieve and no line guard and least expensive), a 14XX(right handed retrieve with line guard), a 15XX(left handed retrieve with line guard). Eventually, they dropped the 13XX and 15XX because they made all reels with line guides and then parts were standardized to make them convertible from right hand retrieve to a left hand retrieve. The most popular of all series is the 14XX series.

All even series reels have a 3/16” spool width and odd series reels have about a 1” spool width. The corresponding lines each reel are the following: 1492 (2/3wt), 1492 ½ (3/4 wt.), 1494 (4/5 wt), 1494 ½ (5/6) wt., 1495(6/7) wt, 1495 ½ (7/8 wt), 1496 (8/9), 14961/2 (9/10wt) and 1498 (9/12wt). The most popular sizes are the 1492, 1492 ½, and 1494; the 1496 and 1496 ½ were the least produced sizes.

The company was sold to Shakespeare in the mid 1960s and they eventually moved Pflueger to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Then in the late 70s Shakespeare began to have these most popular of reels manufactured offshore, which effectively ended the collectable era. The reels are easy to spot, because they don’t say made in U.S.A. on the spool release button found in the middle of the spool.

What are Hardy’s and Pflueger’s products worth?

As values go and as a rough guide, the Perfects are worth the most, from $250.00 and up. The Lightweights start at around $125.00 and the Medalists start around $30.00. These prices are for mechanically sound reels in at least EX condition.

Needless to say, Hardy and Pflueger have other collectable reel series available and there are a tremendous amount of reels out there from other manufacturers that can be used on bamboo and fiberglass—and some people like using collectable reels on graphite too. I just tried to key in on a few that are considered “fan favorites.” because each of these reels have their loyal devotees that wouldn’t think of using any other reel besides a Perfect, a Lightweight, or a Medalist.

“The Pflueger Heritage Lures & Reels 1881-1952.” Wayne Ruby, Collector Books, 2007, Paducah, KY USA
“Fly Reels of the Past.” John Orrelle, Frank Amato Publications, 1987, Portland, OR USA
“Fishing Tackle: A Collector’s Guide.” Graham Turner, Ward Lock Limited, 1989, London, England