As the sport of fishing became more specialized, so did the reels that were designed for it. I've tried to show a wide variety of reels in these galleries.
(Click on a thumbnail for a larger view.)
A brass, side-mounted fly reel invented in
1866 by Anson Hatch. It is an example of a "cage" reel with a "skeleton
spool," which were popular during the 19th century because they ventilated the line,
allowing it to dry without rotting. Jim Schottenham's beautiful website on side-mounted reels has more photos and information on the Hatch, Coates, and Fowler reels illustrated on this page.
This J.F. & B.F. Meek reel, ca. 1845,
is a prime example of early Kentucky casting reels. Made of German silver, its sliding
buttons operate a click and a brake. Kentucky reels were made in this style into the
1930s, though the cranks of most later ones were mounted below the centers of the
This two-speed reel was patented by
Abraham Coates in 1888. The crank is shown mounted so it can turn a multiplying, two-gear
drive train. By shifting the crank to the center of the reel, the angler converts it to a
single-action reel. In spite of its age, the Coates invention was not the first
Another side-mounted fly reel with a
donut-shaped spool. Patented in 1872 by Alonzo Fowler, this reel is extremely light
because of its hard-rubber construction, which, unfortunately, also makes it extremely
One model of the William Mills & Son
"Eureka" line of reels, all made using the inexpensive frame invented by John
Kopf in 1884. Both headplates and the foot were formed from a single piece of folded
To disengage the gears of this Wilcox reel
for casting, the angler pulls the crank out, then pushes it in to reengage them. A spring
inside the the crank collar acts as a detent when it pops into the crankshaft groove shown
by the arrow. The clutch was patented by Curtis Wilcox in 1892.
This reel's level-winding line guide is
driven back and forth by a rubber band as the reel is cranked. The device, patented in
1903 by Abner Bishop, could be fitted to most casting reels of the period, which usually
were not made with level winds.
A version of the first automatic fly reel patented in the U.S.,
produced by Loomis, Plumb & Co., Syracuse, N.Y. First patented by Francis Loomis in
1880, this model includes hard-rubber plates and plated-brass pillars. Loomis considered
cranking a reel as "vexatious and wearisome."
The reel that made Kalamazoo famous. This
is the level-winding Model C, the reel that made the Shakespeare company an immediate
success. Its unusual level-wind mechanism was patented in 1897. William Shakespeare,
Jr.'s, company became one of the world's largest tackle manufacturers.
The sockets of this big-game reel permit
the reel to be mounted between the butt and shaft of a heavy rod. The reel, patented in
1922 by Bengt Hanson, is equipped with an early star drag, a freespool clutch, and a
mechanism that increases cranking power when a fish's pull on the line increases.
A handsome surf-casting reel made by
Ernest Holzmann, who invented several freespool clutches around the turn of the twentieth
century. His reels, all extremely well made, were quite varied, and the hard-rubber
headplates of most of them were threaded so that they could be screwed into threaded
This casting reel is the earliest model of
the Meisselbach company's extremely popular lines of quick-takedown reels. The knurled
German silver ring is threaded and clamps the rubber sideplate to the frame.
A very unusual wooden reel fitted with
multiplying gears and a freespool clutch. Patented in 1905, the reel provided an
alternative to the single-action wood reels that were popular at the time.
Shown in its leather-covered box, this
Illingworth Model 1 was the first spinning reel to use a bail for winding the line onto a
fixed spool. It took over half a century for bail-equipped spinning reels to supplant
spinning reels with pivoting spools.