Saturday, March 3, 2012

Deconstructing Old Ads: The Pflueger Medalist Fly Reel (1929)

The Pflueger Medalist Fly Reel

This is the full page ad I alluded to at the end of last week's column. It appears in the March 1929 issue of Field & Stream and introduces the Pflueger Medalist Fly Reel, one of the most famous Pflueger reels ever to come out of Akron Ohio. I seriously doubt that there is another single action fly reel that would come close to the Medalist in terms of total numbers sold. The Medalist was the epitome of affordable reliability. For those interested in a detailed history of the many models of Medalist offered over the past 81 years there are some good websites that do just that. Just Google "Pflueger Medalist History".

 It is possible these days ( if one feels the need) to spend several hundred dollars on a single action fly reel. Some folks think this is necessaary, but one still sees vintage Medalists doing a fine job. Two problems have surfaced over the years with older Medalist . The plastic spool latch cover on later models often disintegrates due to the unstable plastic (earlier ones have a metal spool latch cover and a round line guide) and some have a foot that is too large for today's reel seats. Never fear, older Medalist are so popular that enterprising folks manufacture replacement parts to fix both these problems. Eventually the Medalist suffered from a problem that is a part of manufacturing trends in the United States. First, Shakespeare acquired Pflueger in 1966 and Shakespeare then went through several changes. Starting in 1970, Medalists were made in Japan, China and Hong Kong and became visibly cheapened to the point that their popularity fell dramatically.

Early Medalist with round line guide and metal spool latch cover

When I started fly fishing 55 years ago, I was 13 and enthralled with the beauty of the popular South Bend "Oren-o-Matic", that large, maroon-colored automatic fly reel that looked so beautiful in the hardware store. I found it heavy and temperamental, especially when one accidentally touched that spring loaded trigger. I noticed that all my favorite outdoor writers gave pros and cons of automatic vs single action fly reels, but all seemed to personally prefer the single action. A local sporting goods store was going out of business in 1962 and everything was on sale. I purchased two Medalist (both boxes had mid-1950's inspection dates on the bottom). One was the standard 1494 and the other was the smallest model made, the 1492. Over the years the 1494 has proven to be my choice and I now own three of them. The little 1492 that looked so right, turned out to be too small to hold an entire HDH double tapered line (that's about a 6 wt for you younger fellows). I needed to cut the fly line in half in order to get it on the reel and even then there was precious little space left for backing. This came to a head one memorable bright sunny morning in the mid-1970's when I was wading close to shore. In front of me was two feet of crystal clear water over a white marl bottom that contained a large Bluegill spawning bed. I was using a light bamboo Orvis Midge rod with the little 1492 Medalist when a four-pound plus Largemouth cruised slowly into the picture. I quickly bit off the wet fly I was using and tied on a black marabou streamer, flipped it out in front of the bass and watched him suck it in. I set the hook at which point he kept opening his mouth and trying to eject the fly which I could clearly see stuck in his tongue. He turned and swam slowly away apparently not aware that he was hooked to my line. As I tightened up on him he got the picture and shot off toward deep water. I watched fly line and backing disappear in a matter of seconds followed by the sound of my 3lb test tippet snapping as the end of the line was reached. That bass jumped several times over the next 10 minutes trying to rid himself of the fly and reminding me to use the larger 1494 with plenty of backing next time. -------- Ever notice we most clearly remember the fish that got away?

My original Medalists: Still going strong after 49 years of service.

-- Bill Sonnett

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