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Vintage Antique Brass Fly Fishing Reel

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Field Trip: Antique Fly Fishing Equpment

There are many retailers on the market offering vintage and antique fly fishing tackle. Unlike with cars, where the terms "vintage" and "classic" have specific meanings (vintage refers to cars made between 1919 and 1930, while classic refers to cars made between 1931 and 1948), there is no generally agreed definition of the difference between antique and vintage among fly fishers. The book Classic and Antique Fly Fishing Tackle divides fishing tackle production into the Smith Age (1800-65), the Expansion Age (1865-1900), the Classic Age (1900-55) and the Semi Modern Age (1955-75) – no mention of the words "vintage" or "antique". In fact, collectors seem to use these terms almost interchangeably. For the purposes of this article, therefore, I will use the term "vintage" to mean fly fishing tackle from the Expansion Age and "antique" to refer to the Smith Age.

Vintage Fly Fishing Tackle Equipment: Bamboo Rods

Prior to the Civil War, most fly fishing rods were made of hardwoods such as ironwood, made, as its name implies, from an exceptionally hardy tree that grows in the Sonoran Desert. The first bamboo rod appeared in 1848 and during the Expansion Age (so called because the years following the Civil War saw a great expansion in factories producing fly fishing tackle), bamboo rods came to dominate due to their light weight and greater flexibility. Even now, many fly fishers prefer the feel of a bamboo or cane rod to that of modern fiberglass or graphite rods. However, because bamboo is more fragile than modern composite materials, bamboo rods can be hard to find, which naturally pushes up the price. If there is one quality the collector of vintage fly fishing tackle equipment needs, it's patience. Vintage rods don't turn up on the market every day.

Vintage Fly Fishing Tackle Equipment: Fly Reels

During the Smith Age, fly reels tended to be made of brass or silver. After the Civil War, the factory system allowed for the construction of lighter aluminum reels. Brooklyn emerged as the main center of production for vintage fly fishing tackle--with Lower Manhattan's Fulton Street being colloquially nicknamed Tackle Row due to the large number of fishing tackle stores--and the factories there provided many of the names that will be familiar to collectors of vintage tackle.

Unlike bamboo rods, aluminum fly reels are relatively durable and vintage models are available on eBay and through retailers of antique and collectible fly fishing equipment for little more than the price of a new reel. Names to look for are Zwarg and Von Hofe, if you are seeking reels from the finest Brooklyn tackle manufacturers of the Expansion Age.

Antique Tackle Observer () is a new blog dedicated to the history of fishing tackle, and it contains a trove of information on antique fly fishing reels. I spent a solid half hour perusing the photos and descriptions of a variety of reels from the Edward Vom Hofe with Adjustable Automatic Silent Tension Drag to the to the new reels Hardy is having made in Japan. Even if you have little interest in collectibles, it is fun to compare the inner workings of famous old reels with their modern counterparts.

Yay! You're now following antique fly fishing in your .

Yay! You're now following antique fly fishing flies in your .

In Eugene, Oregon, ANTIQUES ROADSHOW host Mark L. Walberg and appraiser Ken Farmer head to the banks of the scenic McKenzie River for a bit of fishing and a look into the antique fly fishing gear market.

In Eugene, Oregon, ANTIQUES ROADSHOW host Mark L. Walberg and appraiser Ken Farmer head to the banks of the scenic McKenzie River for a bit of fishing and a look into the antique fly fishing gear market.