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Mark Greenig: Shakespeare fly fishing reels — so many choices

Three Shakespeare fly fishing reels, left to right Model 1824 EK, Model 1827 EA and Model 1837 GB. All in very nice condition. RECORD/Mark Greenig

We have talked before about this company. William Shakespeare founded the organization in 1897. He was the inventor of the first level wind reel. It’s interesting to note he received the patent for his reel in 1896. Shakespeare’s first patent on lures wasn’t received until 1901. His level wide reel concept is alive and well today and used by many companies. However, this discussion will focus on the Shakespeare fly fishing reel. According to my research, William started to manufacture of these heavy duty fly reels prior to his death in 1950 and the selling of the company to Creek Chub Lures in 1952.

There were a multitude of different Shakespeare fly fishing reels made beginning in the 1940s. I know they were made after the initiation of the zip code, meaning some were made in the mid to late 1960’s. Part of the appeal of this reel was the vibrant colors they were painted with. From a deep green, maroon, brown and other colors, the reel to this day is a joy to look at.

In terms of models, what follows is a partial list of specific ones I have come across. They include models 1824 EK, 1835 GB, HN, 1826, 1827 EA, 1821 GD, GN, EK, 1805 HF, 1825 EA and 1837 GE. There are more but you get the idea. The model number and subsequent letter code can easily be found somewhere on the reel. I am not sure, however the two letter code may indicate when a specific model was first made. I did find the letters GD indicate a reel was first made in 1947. A Google effort would likely provide complete information on all letter codes.

In addition, it’s often possible to tell an early reel from a later model by looking at the design. Later reels have much more decorative style engraving on them. Never under estimate how an effective reel design and looks impact sales.

Finally, some reels were placed beneath the rod and others were fastened to the side. The usual location is beneath the rod as the side mounted reels didn’t survive due to poor market share.

These reels with minimal care are almost impossible to harm when used for their specific purpose. I know lots of people in our area still have many of these reels.

Their concept is simple. Under the top housing is a heavy spring. With tension all you had to do was press the metal lever and the line would automatically wind back on the reel. Thus, the name Shakespeare automatic fly fishing reels. It was modern technology that forced early retirement on this fascinating invention.

A huge down side of this item is the weight. Today, the market demand in both fishing and hunting “tools” is for lightweight products. The Shakespeare fly reel is much too heavy for the fly fishing enthusiast of today. However, back in the day when this reel was matched with a Shakespeare glass fly rod it meant you were serious about your fly fishing.

The Shakespeare fly fishing reel is another collectible and usable item. Most will no longer be used due to the weight factor. This is what one would call an entry level collectible. Most common models, such as those shown, can be purchased for $7 to $12. Add more value if the reel comes with the proper box and instruction sheet. Regardless, the cost of this sporting collectible makes them a good purchase, especially if going on display in your home. Until next time, may all your searches be successful.