Classic reels for Atlantic Salmon fishing are among the most impressive in terms of design, engineering, and beauty. Their sheer size and ability to handle the strongest salmon runs have required superior innovation and craftsmanship.
Some of the iconic historic salmon reel makers include the Vom Hofes, Otto Zwarg, Hardy, Philbrook and Payne (H.L. Leonard) and others have inspired more modern reel makers such as Stan Bogdan, Arthur Walker, Dr. Paul Hermann and others.
Perhaps the most beautiful and valuable example is the Philbrook and Payne salmon reel designed by Francis J. Philbrook and Edward Payne and manufactured by H. L. Leonard in the late 1800s. The slide plates of the reel were made from a special mud that flowed into a mold that was machined to fit the nickel-silver frame, yielding a stunning marbleized effect.
A Philbrook and Payne salmon reel recently sold at Lang’s Auction for over $23,000 with the auction premium.
Another stunner is this antique British silver presentation reel presented to Major Robertson by his brother officers in 1832. Other examples of salmon reels from across the Pond are the Williams Salmon Fly Reel, an Eaton & Deller salmon winch with a hardwood frame and a massive brass salmon trolling winch.
Edward Vom Hofe of New York was one of the premier salmon reel makers, along with his brother Julius and father Frederick. The Vom Hofe tackle company was founded in 1867 and continued in business until the 1940s. They also made casting reels from fresh and saltwater, as well as trout and bass reels and other tackle It was later sold to another reel maker, Otto Zwarg of St. Petersburg, Florida.
The classic Vom Hofe design includes the distinctive black hard rubber side plates with and the “S”-shaped handle.
The Hardy Cascapedia is another classic salmon reel that was first manufactured in the 1930s. The Cascapedia was a multiplying reel produced with ebonite and nickel silver construction in four different sizes. These original versions sell for over $10,000 at auction.
Hardy reissued the reel as the Hotspur Cascapedia a few years ago, selling Model numbered 001 in a charity auction to benefit the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Salmon and Trout Conservation organization for 55,000 pounds.
Perhaps the best known modern salmon reel maker was Stan Bogdan of Nashua, NH, who produced some of the best salmon reels ever made. He built his first salmon reel in 1944 and ran his reel manufacturing business from 1955 to 2009, along with his son Stephen who later made S.E. Bogdan reels and became the sole owner of the business in 1996.
The tradition of fine salmon fly fishing reel making design and engineering were also furthered by Arthur Walker in the 1950s and his son Archie during the 70s in Long Island, NY and by Dr. Paul Hermann, a doctor from Winthrop, Maine.
Steve Woit is the author of “Fly Fishing Treasures: The World of Fly Fishers and Collecting”, a book featuring profiles of 30 experts and collectors and over 800 photographs of rare and collectible fly rods, reels, flies, books, and ephemera.