While doing some research on a completely unrelated subject, I came across an interesting article in the 21 October 1966 Washington Post that I thought might be of interest to saltwater fishermen and collectors, and in particular that strange breed known as the surf caster. Written by LeRoy Whitman and entitled “Hoyle’s Wood Reel Eased Surfcasting,” it profiled perhaps the least famous reel maker in modern memory: Clayton Hoyle of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Martha’s Vineyard is of course famous as being the playground of the rich and famous, but as an island with 6000 year-round inhabitants at the time was also a hotbed of saltwater fishing, with an emphasis on surf casting. As Whitman declared, “Mr. Hoyle is esteemed as the man who made the first big advance in salt water angling. Back in 1907 Clayt. Hoyle revolutionized surf fishing by building the first salt water reel the islanders had ever seen. It was made of wood, built like a windless and had a leather tab on its side as a friction drag—but it worked.” What the article was describing was in essence the popular wooden “Good Luck” reel made by Meisselbach, Yale Metal Products, and more recently by Peetz. Was Hoyle the inventor of this reel?
Not likely. “Good Luck” reels, as Phil White shows in his outstanding Meisselbach research, were a staple even in the nineteenth century. Yet clearly Hoyle invented some kind of reel that, at least within his small community, engendered a kind of lasting fame. This is probably because surf fishing at the turn of the twentieth century was a laborious affair known as “drail casting.” A fisherman would start out with 16-strand 50 pound test line, soaked in water and tied taught between trees to dry out. Surf casters would then tie one end of the line to a broom stick drilled into the sand, lay out the line on the beach, and attach a seven and a half inch lead jig or “drail” to the other end. Whitman wrote “the drail caster’s art consisted of swinging the lure in a circle and timing its release so that it soared out to sea carrying his line behind it.” Then the fisherman would work the drail by hand until a fish bit or it was hauled in, to be tossed out again.
Clayton Hoyle decided there had to be a better way to fish from the shore. Tired of having large stripers pull him into the drink, he built a reel in his shop that was “single action and had no multiplying gears, but with a stout rod it enabled the surf fisherman to haul in a big fish…” Further, it allowed for lighter line (35 pound test) and more importantly, far more casts per hour. Apparently, it became popular among fisherman on Martha’s Vineyard.
Whitman did note that “his wasn’t the first saltwater reel…Charles von Hoff [sic] had made one in New York. But Hoyle’s wooden one proved very popular. In fact, a New York firm subsequently came out with one designed along the same lines as Hoyle’s but made of mahogany and equipped with ball bearings.” This was without doubt the Meisselbach/Yale Metal Works wooden reels offered in the 1920s and 1930s, although the casual reader might have wondered about the spelling of Edward Vom Hofe.
Clayton Hoyle remained active in the fishing tackle trade his whole life, running a tackle shop in Oak Bluff’s on the island where he made surf rods, repaired reels, and of course sold his Hoyle surfcaster. Was Hoyle the inventor of the wooden surf reel? Absolutely not. It would be fascinating, however, to examine a Hoyle surf casting reel to see what (if anything) differentiated it from a number of its far better known competitors. Whether it was truly original or just another take on an old idea, we can thank LeRoy Whitman of The Washington Post for bringing to light information on at least one small east coast reel maker.
Has anyone ever seen a wooden reel marked Clayton Hoyle?
NOTE: This article appeared in the January 2010 edition of ORCA's Reel News.
-- Dr. Todd