Walter Willman and the P-41
Walter Willman was a very successful Tournament caster with both the fly rod and the bait casting rod. Between 1922 and 1938 Walter won nine national championships in Dry fly accuracy, 5/8 oz accuracy, 5/8 oz distance and 3/8 oz distance. Walter had a reputation for being able to build and tune bait casting reels for tournament use. After World War II, he became a consultant for the Heddon Company and designed a light weight bait casting reel for them known as the “Pal P-41." It was produced for Heddon by the Bronson Reel Company and featured a removable head ring that screwed off for easy lubrication on the gears and bearings. The first of these reels were produced in 1947 and were aluminum in color. They had the usual screws that held the head plate on when the head ring was removed.
The reel was popular among tournament casters. Somewhere along the way it was discovered that if one removed all the screws in the head plate and left the head ring in place, the reel stayed assembled and functioned normally. By 1950 several changes were made eliminating the head plate screws and giving the reel an attractive dark maroon (always listed as black) anodized finish. In addition, a lighter narrow-spool version of the reel designated the P-41N was introduced. According to Tournament Casting historian Cliff Netherton:
"The narrow spool version was outstanding for accuracy casting and the wide spool P-41 was the most popular reel for Skish Bait casting. It was the reel used to set the Skish Bait Distance records in the 1950's”
The ad featured here is from the June 1951 issue of Sports Afield and touts the P-41's recent records at casting tournaments.
The 1950 Heddon Catalog also featured a seldom seen version of the P-41 identified as the P-41S. It is a saltwater or heavy service version that is made from chrome plated brass and is definitely much heavier in the hand. In 1952 there was a short-lived economy version introduced, the P-51, that was green in color. It was more cheaply made and did not have the same anti-backlash feature as the standard P-41's. In 1954 the two standard P-41's were offered along with a hand tuned, extra light version known as the P-41L. It cost twice the price of the standard P-41's and featured gold anodized trim and extra light, hollowed out gears. The catalog cautioned that the reel “should not be used for heavy fishing” and said it was excellent for tournament accuracy and distance casting. By 1957 an additional narrow spool version of this deluxe lightweight reel was also offered designated the P-41NL. 1959 was the last year that Heddon cataloged the P-41's. There are no bait casting reels in the 1960 catalog.
My personal experience with the P-41's can be summed up as follows. They are fun to cast, especially the P-41N which, on a long soft action rod, will handle 1/5 ounce with little difficulty. I have not had good experiences with either the standard width or the narrow spool reels when attempting to fish with them. Both reels have "locked up" while playing large fish. I recently acquired the two deluxe lightweight P-41L's but after having the afore mentioned problems with the standard weight reels, I believe I'll just follow the Heddon catalog's advice and not take them fishing!
-- Bill Sonnett