The Victorians and Fly Fishing 3

The 19th century’s contribution to fly fishing were many, but one of the most important was improvements in reel design. These improvements were spurred on by a new generation of tackle dealers into the market. Firms like Eaton and Farlow concentrated on reel design and they were key to the improvements that would be made in the next 50 years.

Checks were standard fittings on reels at the time. Wide spindles were common on the better quality models, although narrow diameter spindles were still in favour until near the end of the century. But it was the use of new materials, particularly aluminium, that brought about the most significant change, making reels lighter. With aluminium came a short-lived fad to use exotic materials. Rubber was in popular use for fly-reel construction between the years 1851 and 1925. The hard rubber used in them had brand names like Ebonite, Xylonite and Vulcanite.

Britain’s developments were reflected in the USA, where, by 1845, American reels had almost totally replaced imported ones. By mid century, the American fisherman was dependent on Europe for little other than gut. From then on, fly reel development was to be dominated by American machine technology. Indeed, American reels in the latter half of the 19th century in many respects were superior to their British counterparts, a turn up for the books for those who believed Britons had the upper hand in fly fishing technology.

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