The Joys of Classic Tackle

Glenmorangie Sunrise

Sitting here thinking about days gone by and I had this photo on my wallpaper screen. There was a run of years in the beginning of this decade when Mike Saylor and I enjoyed an annual trip to Pat Schuler’s Glenmorangie Lodge. We had some great fishing during those trips, and a wonderful time! Pat was one of the first professional guides on the Upper Delaware River and knows the river like no one else, and he is a terrific guy. The photo comes from my little routine during my stays at Pat’s lodge.

During my working years I was always an early riser, getting up well before daybreak and breakfast. Pat would be sure the coffee pot was set to have fresh brew by five o’clock, so I could pour myself a mug and sit downstairs to tie flies as the mountains awakened. The lodge featured had a beautifully equipped tying desk that looked out the window upon this view. I sat there many mornings with the window opened: sipping coffee, tying flies, and listening to the wild turkey’s yelping and gobbling! Little moments can be as precious as the big ones!

The past has always held an interest for me, particularly as it relates to angling. I have confessed to my love of fishing with tackle older than I am. It always makes me wonder about the history of the particular rod or reel I have in hand.

That started with my grandfather’s old Horrocks – Ibbotson “Hudson” fly rod. I had the old cane rod restored to fishable condition when my Uncle Al passed it on to me. It is a cherished memento of the angling history of my family, though it would hold no value for another. H-I was one of the big, mass production companies that turned out thousands upon thousands of fishing rods back in those days. The rods were split bamboo, but certainly not the classic rods that gentlemen collect these days.

Pap’s 9-foot Hudson has a fairly typical soft wet fly action, and I have a pristine older Medalist reel that seems right at home snugged up in its chrome reelseat. A vintage DT6F line that came on that reel works out just fine. The H-I is a working man’s rod, and I am a working man as was my father and grandfather before me.

As I grew more enthralled with fly fishing and its history, my interest in older tackle gradually increased. Unfortunately, that all happened in a time when collectability put the vast majority of the classic bamboo flyrods and English reels financially out of reach for a working man like myself. I think that may be why I was attracted to Granger rods.

I learned about them slowly at first, beginning with a misstep that could have been costly, but for the kindness and good nature of some folks in the bamboo fraternity. Guys like Michael Sinclair and Dana Gray helped educate me via the Classic Flyrod Forum, and Michael’s wonderful book “Goodwin Granger: The Rod Man From Denver” exposed me to the entire history of Granger fly rods.

Grangers were working man’s fly rods, but they were brilliant designs made to extremely high quality standards. An 8-foot Granger was a great rod whether you bought the least expensive grade rod for ten dollars, or the elite Registered grade for fifty. The more I read about Goodwin Granger and his company, the more I admired the man and his legacy.

I have a few Granger rods these days, mostly Granger “Specials”. They aren’t the high grade models that were relatively scarce and thus prized by some collectors. The Special grade rods were one of the most popular and both the Goodwin Granger Company and later Wright & McGill made a lot of them. In my mind, they are the quintessential working man’s bamboo flyrod, and they sure do cast and fish beautifully!

I like to fish a reel that compliments my older rods, though there are times I can be caught with a modern disc drag reel on one of my bigger Grangers. You do need some backing capacity on the Upper Delaware. That Pflueger Medalist suits the 9-footers pretty well though, as it was one of the most popular working man’s fly reels for a long time.

My first Granger “Special”: a 9050 with an over 20″ Delaware Brownie

I would dearly love to have a vintage 3″ Hardy St. George reel to match my shorter and lighter Granger rods, but the collectors seem to keep the prices for those well up in the stratosphere. I have a couple of older Hardy made Orvis CFO reels that do the job for now. CFO’s are considered classics by a fair number of fly fishers, but they are not exactly vintage, the CFO having been introduced in 1971.

The Hardy’s have always been the mark of quality when it comes to fly reels, but back in the Golden Age they weren’t unobtainable. I can picture a guy like myself back in the forties or fifties, saving a quarter here and a dollar there for several years until he had squirreled away enough for a real Hardy to adorn his Granger Special.

I think the thing that makes all old Hardy’s so dear is that there have been a lot of reels and a lot of variations of those reels made over their long history. Collectors tend to prize reels that were manufactured in very small numbers, and a particularly scare variation of a popular reel like a St. George or a Perfect can bring astronomical prices. Take that fact and dilute it in the pool of popular knowledge and a ton of people end up believing that used Hardy reels are worth a fortune. If you have ever seen a well-used, five year old graphite fly rod listed on an internet auction site as a “vintage fly rod” with an asking price higher than its original retail, then you understand my logic.

I am not a collector, so I haven’t made a study of classic rods or reels, though I read a lot because of my interest. My observations are from the point of view of a guy who likes to fish with the older fly tackle he has.

There is something about that telltale scream of a Hardy spring and pawl click fly reel when a nice trout takes your fly and heads for the next pool. The sound is both exciting and very recognizable. I was fishing one of our Catskill rivers one day last summer and hooked an 18 inch brown that took off and spun a bunch of line off my reel, a Hardy LRH. Later on, another angler who had been fishing upstream walked past me on the bank and said “That was an LRH, wasn’t it? I love those reels”. That just doesn’t happen when you’re fishing a modern fly reel.

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