Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Review of Fin-Nor: The Legacy Years

A Review of Fin-Nor: The Legacy Years

The history of big game saltwater fishing has experienced a renaissance of late. For years, those interested in blue water angling turned to old standbys like Harlan Major or read the original writings of men like Zane Grey. In the past decade, however, much has been published on big game saltwater fishing, ranging from George Reiger's Profiles in Saltwater Angling to the on-going series on the history of saltwater fishing lures in Hunting & Fishing Collectibles Magazine.

The one glaring exception has been the dearth of histories on big game saltwater fishing gear. Other than the out-of-print book on Kovalovsky, not much has been published on the major reel manufacturers, ranging from Penn to J.A. Coxe to Ed. Vom Hofe, all of whom have not had their stories told with any depth. Perhaps Fin-Nor: The Legacy Years, by Bruce Mathews and Ed Pritchard, heralds a new age in the history of big game saltwater fishing tackle.

This slim hardcover volume, coming in at just under 100 pages, tells the fascinating story of how Miami's Finley-Norwood Machine Shop and its enterprising owner Fred Grieten became the world famous Fin-Nor Reel Company. The story of Fin-Nor, as it turns out, is pretty much the story of the popularization of saltwater big game fishing in America.

It all began in a garage. Grieten, a mechanical genius, cut his (gear) teeth tooling the incredibly huge Ed Knowles reel in 1934. Although not a fisherman himself, he took this experience and began to construct a reel that would change the world. The first Fin-Nor reels came out in 1936 and immediately began to alter the saltwater landscape. For the first time, anglers had reliable and powerful reels intended for the largest game fish that swim, and when paired with the great Tycoon Tackle rods--a firm that Fin-Nor developed a decades-long relationship--the combos became the chosen tackle of numerous angling icons, ranging from the legendary Captain Tommy Gifford to Alfred Glassell Jr. to Michael Lerner.

The book is at its best when detailing the specific history of the development of the big water ocean reel, a section undoubtedly vastly enriched by co-author Pritchard, who provided nearly all the photos (and almost certainly the historical information) on not just Fin-Nor reels but many of their major competitors, from Garey to Kovalovsky. Pritchard has a world-class collection as well as a repository of information on saltwater tackle and techniques, and this book could not have been written without him.

There is much to like about this book. It is well written and engaging, and strives at all times to place the development of Fin-Nor within the broad context of the development of the sport. The photos are clear and, as the book is printed in color, richly detailed. The historical aspects of Fin-Nor are told in as much detail as the authors could uncover, which, due to the passing of nearly everyone involved in the origins of the firm, still has some gaps. I imagine the book would have been infinitely easier to write twenty years ago.

There are also a few drawbacks about the book. First and foremost is the extraordinarily small font used to print the book. I do not have failing eyesight, but at times I struggled to read portions of this book, in particular the sidebars which, I believe, were printed in an almost surreal six-point font. Second, the Fin-Nor story is not carried up to the present. I know the book is subtitled The Legacy Years, but certainly chronicling the story from the 1960s to the present would allow the reader to help place the current incarnation of Fin-Nor--this time in the Zebco fold--in proper perspective. Such popular Fin-Nor products as the Wedding Cake Fly Reels and the Gar Wood Spinning Reels are only an afterthought, as this period is covered in just a few pages. Finally, the section on how ocean reels received the 1/0, 2/0, etc. designation is lacking in historical depth; there is a far more detailed analysis on ORCA's Reel Talk chat board.

That is being a bit nitpicky, however. This is a great book and will certainly be the standard work on Fin-Nor for years to come, and the authors should be commended for telling the story both accurately and in an eminently readable style. While the price is a big hefty for a rather slim volume, I am confident anyone interested in saltwater fishing, and in particular the history of marlin, tuna, and shark angling, will not balk at the cost. Fin-Nor: The Legacy Years should become a staple of any well-stocked fishing library.

The book is available from Fin-Nor's Web Site or a limited number of signed copies are available directly from Ed Pritchard.

-- Dr. Todd

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