by Dr. Todd E.A. Larson
A few years back I got an odd letter in the mail — it was a short note that stated that the writer had a very special fly reel and asking if I would be interested in it. That in itself was not strange; the local fly shops keep my name handy for when people bring in old tackle, so I was used to these unsolicited contacts (usually I get emails or phone calls, however). No, what was odd was that the letter was written on what seemed like ancient paper in what can only be described as a classic Palmer script. It was signed “Ronan” in a beautiful flourish and had a phone number written below it.
The phone number as printed read PEL 6621. I was clearly dealing with someone who was VERY old.
I dialed up the number (I have an antique rotary phone on my office desk so I was quickly able to decipher the old alphanumeric phone code, which was last popular in the 1950s) and it rang on the other end several times before a female voice answered. I explained who I was and why I was calling, and that I had gotten a letter with this number. There was a long silence on the other end. “You must be looking for Ronan,” she said in a scratchy tone. I explained that Ronan had written in this letter about a fishing reel I might be interested in. After another long pause, the woman simply said, “the address is 2315 Rose Hill Lane.” Then she hung up. I quickly wrote the address down before I forgot it.
To say I was confused would be an understatement. Was I supposed to meet “Ronan” at this address? When was I supposed to come out there? Were we accidentally disconnected? After thinking for a few minutes, I called back, but no one would pick up the phone.
After puzzling through the odd turn of events, I looked up the address on google and discovered it was in an old part of town only about ten minutes from where I lived. So after about an hour of waffling I decided to get in the car and drive over and see first hand where Ronan and what I presumed was his wife lived.
Ten minutes later, and I’m parked outside a Victorian mansion in an old part of town noted for being the neighborhood where Proctor & Gamble executives lived in the 1920s and 1930s. The house, however, appeared as if it hadn’t been lived in for about three decades. There was a broken window in the upper floor, overgrown weeds everywhere, and the general look (and vibe) was that of the setting of an old Hammer horror film.
As a collector, of course, all I could think about was how old this reel must be, given the living conditions. So I mustered up my courage and walked up to the front door. Just as I was reaching up to knock, the door suddenly swung open, nearly causing me a heart attack. A very, very old woman came out from behind the door. “You’re late,” is all she said, and motioned for me to come in.
I followed her in to the dimly lit foyer (I vaguely remember the door shutting by itself behind me but by this time all of my hair was standing on end anyways, so I may have imagined it). To the immediate right was a classic drawing room, filled with ancient artifacts, antiques, and about fifty years of dust. On a round “pineapple” foot mahogany table sat a single brass fishing reel, with the silk fly line still on it. The old lady motioned toward it with her hand.
Not knowing what to do, I reached over and picked it up. It was a late 19th century British fly reel, one of those small inch-and-a-half diameter solid brass numbers the British were so famous for. It showed a lot of use, but was complete and functional with a solid click, which made it a bit unusual for that style of reel. After turning the handle a half dozen times I put the reel back on the table.
“Well,” I said, clearing my throat and getting ready to tell the old lady what I knew about, “this reel dates from …”
“Take it,” the old lady said, grabbing it up and handing it to me in one sweeping movement.
I was speechless. I just stood there holding the reel for what seemed like five minutes.
“I insist on paying you …”
Again she interrupted me, this time placing a wizened hand on my elbow and gently but firmly turning me towards the front door.
“I don’t want money for it,” she said with finality. “Thank you for your time.”
For the first time in my life I knew what it was like to be dismissed. I walked toward the front door, the little brass reel feeling like a ten pound weight in my hand.
As I got out on to the porch, I turned back and said “Please thank Ronan for me. This is a very nice reel.”
The old woman’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Ronan drowned while fly fishing out east in 1952. He was using this reel when he died.”
Then she shut the door, leaving me standing slack jawed on the porch.
As I drove back home, it was all I could do to keep from shuddering. Why did she write me the letter and sign it with Ronan’s name? It was all so … spooky.
I burst in the door and walked directly into my office so I could read the letter again. I had left it on my desk because I had used the phone number written on it to call from my office.
The letter and the envelope it came in were gone!
I spent a half hour looking for it, to no avail. As I was the only one home, no one else could have touched it but me. It simply … disappeared.
Since I had called the number on my iPhone I still had a record of it, and it took me two days to muster the courage to call it again. But there was no answer, no matter how long I let it ring. For my own sanity I drove by the house, just to make sure I hadn’t gone crazy.
There was a for sale sign in the middle of the yard that wasn’t there two days before.
I still have that reel, which I keep in a display case with other early English brass fly reels. I haven’t touched it or cleaned it or done anything to it, and the fly line is still on there.
That’s not the end of the story, though.
About a month after I got the reel, I was awoken in the middle of the night by what sounded like the slow click of a fly reel … an unmistakeable sound for any fly angler or reel collector. I shrugged it off.
A couple of days later I happened to look at my brass fly reel display, and Ronan’s reel had a couple inches of silk fly line spilling out in front of it that I could have sworn was not there before …
I took out the reel in amazement and began to silently wind in the line. It was at that moment that I remembered that the reel had a strong click. I wound the reel backward and forward, but to this day, it has never made a sound again.
I refuse to take it apart, for fear that i will find that it never had a click to begin with.